Watch a timely conversation with Founder and CEO of Khan Academy on the opportunities and challenges of distance learning. Khan Academy is an online platform that offers free educational videos and exercises in topics ranging from math to chemistry to SAT prep.
Hear about ways to motivate and engage your kids in learning, how to balance online and offline learning in today’s stay-at-home world and more.
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Mohamed Fahmi - All right, well, thank you all for joining today. I'm Mohamed Fahmi, Regional Managing Director at First Republic Bank and it is my pleasure to welcome Sal Khan, Founder and CEO of the Khan Academy to speak to us today about the opportunities and challenges of distance learning. Sal is the founder of the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization with a mission of providing free world class education for everyone, everywhere. Khan Academy offers free lessons in math, history, grammar, physics, biology, and many other subjects. The Khan Academy's mastery learning system is designed to allow students to learn at their own pace. Teachers can use the Khan Academy to track students' progress, identify gaps in learning, make assignments, and provide tailored instructions. Today more than 100 million registered users access the Khan Academy in 43 languages and in more than 190 countries. Sal holds three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard. He has been profiled by 60 Minutes, was the only non-profit leader ever profiled on the cover of Forbes, and was recognized as one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world. Sal, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today but before we get started, we'd like to play a very brief video about the Khan Academy's impact.
Sal Khan - Math was always my difficulty in school. Until I started using Khan Academy, I got better math scores and state test scores. It just helped me be more confident by myself. My dream is to work for NASA and go to space and see how the stars and explore the space, Helps me achieve, makes me feel more successful and more confident that I can succeed in that goal.
Mohamed - Inspiring work that you do Sal, thank you again for joining us, a quick housekeeping note. You can utilize the Q&A button at the bottom of the screen as a participant to ask questions and Sal is going to take a few questions closer to the end. Sal thanks again for joining, it's an extraordinary and challenging time, and we appreciate you taking the time to speak to us today but let's start at the beginning. Now give us a little bit of history, so you graduate from MIT, you go to Harvard, and then you work in a hedge fund, and how did Khan Academy come into this equation?
Sal - Yeah, first of all, thanks for having me Mohamed, and for those of you who don't know, I know Mohamed on a lot of levels, so if I kind of poke at him a little bit, that's why.
Mohamed - You are more than welcome Sal.
Sal - So I mean, to your question, Mohamed, many folks know, Khan Academy, if you rewind back to 2004, I was an analyst at a hedge fund. My original background was in technology and math, but after business school, I found myself as an investment analyst, I just gotten married, and I just found out my family was visiting me in Boston at the time from New Orleans, which is where I was born and raised and I just came out of a conversation. My 12 year old cousin, Nadia, was having trouble with math, and so when I found that out, I said, "Hey Nadia, I'm 100% confident you can be great at math, how about when you go back home to New Orleans, I will tutor you." And that was distance learning, well before it was in Vogue, and she agreed, and so I started working with her, and slowly but surely was like 20 minutes a night, 30 minutes a night, she started to believe in herself. She got caught up with her class, she even got a little ahead of her class. At that point I became what I call a tiger cousin. I called up her school said, "I really think Nadia Rahman should be able to retake that placement exam." She was being placed into a slower math class because of her troubles in the previous year, and the school said, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm her cousin." and they let her take it, and that same Nadia that only a few months before was put into kind of the slow math track was then put in the advanced math track. So I was hooked, it was a fun way to connect with family that was 2000 miles away, 1500 miles away, started tutoring her younger brothers, Ahmad and Ali. And then over the next 18 months, a couple of things happened. One, the very small firm I was working for, my boss, it was just me and my boss really, his wife became a professor at Stanford Law School, so we moved Wohl Capital as my boss's name was Dan Wohl out to the Bay Area, out to Silicon Valley, but more relevant to this. Yeah, a story. Word spread in my family that free tutoring was going on, and I found myself working with 10, 15 cousins, family, friends, ever day after work, and the background in software, I was always kind of like, how can I scale this thing, I saw a lot of patterns, a lot of my cousins, they were having trouble because they just had gaps in their knowledge, they might have not fully learned, even though they were A or B students, they just had a 5%, 10%, 20% gap in decimals from fifth grade, and so when it showed up again in seventh grade, they were having trouble with it or that trouble of negative numbers from sixth grade, so when they saw it in their algebra class, they were having trouble, and so I started as really homebrew software, writing a little thing for them to get practice, so that they can fill in their gaps, and that was the first Khan Academy had absolutely nothing to do with videos which a lot of people associate Khan Academy with and it was actually at a dinner party in San Mateo, not too far from where both of us live that I was showing off my little project from our friends, some of these folks you know Mohamed, and Mohamed knows I'm not the best dinner guest 'because I like to talk about nerdy stuff, but our host Zuli, He said, " Well, Sal, this is all cool, but how are you scaling your lessons?" And I said, it's a good point Zuli, It's hard to do with 15 cousins, what I was just doing with Nadia, her brothers, and he suggested back in 2000, I think was 2006 now. That while you record their lessons as videos, upload them onto YouTube for your family, and I immediately thought that was a horrible idea, I said," YouTube is for cats playing piano, it is not for serious math." I went home that weekend, got over the idea that it was not my idea and gave it a shot, and then I told my cousins, hey, watch this at your own time and pace, That way when we get on the phone or we get on Instant Messenger, whatever we were using back then, we can dig a little bit deeper. After a month of that they gave me the somewhat backhanded positive feedback that they liked me better on YouTube than in person. So I took that as positive feedback kept going, and frankly, too soon became clear that people who weren't my family were using it and they started writing letters saying, "This is how I passed out algebra class, this is why I feel confident going back to college after being deployed in Iraq. This is why I'm able to tutor my grandkids." So you can imagine that was really inspiring, to wake up in the morning and get those letters, and by 2009, I had trouble focusing on my day job, and I set it up as a not-for-profit. We looked at our finances, we didn't own a house back then, we were saving up a down payment, but my wife and I, we said, maybe we can live off of savings for a little bit, and I took the plunge, I set it up not-for-profit thinking someone will recognize that the social return on investment here is off the charts, and like a lot of entrepreneurial journeys, that first year was very tough. It takes a while for the world to actually recognize maybe something. So it was a hard year but then by fall of 2010, we got our first real funding to become a real organization and that's what allowed us, Khan Academy is much more than me now. We're over 200 full time folks. There's 14,000 people around the world who volunteered for it. There's over 100,000 people who've donated towards it, but that's what allowed us to reach, the scale and the breadth and the depth that you mentioned in the introduction.
Mohamed - Thank you, that's fantastic background Sal, now let's shift gears a little bit to kind of martial arts. Talk to me about how the concept of classical learning versus martial arts and mastery changed the trajectory of how you want to teach.
Sal - Yes, and as many people can tell from my physique, I'm not the natural person to consult on martial anything but what I believe Mohamed is referring to, and I actually I think I'm being overly modest on that but that was more of a joke. For my age I think I'm doing alright, but to answer Mohamed's question, what I often talk about is in a traditional academic model, we move kids together at a fixed pace, and what will typically happen, let's say we're in seventh grade, and we're covering exponents let's say, We'll get a lecture, we'll go do some homework get a lecture after about a week or two, we'll get an assessment on that assessment, maybe Mohamed gets a 90%, I get a 70%. Even though that test has identified our gaps, the whole class will then move on to the next concept, and that's probably a concept especially in math that's going to build on our gaps. It might be negative exponents now, or logarithms, and that process just keeps happening throughout your whole academic life and usually when you get to a class like algebra, kids hit a wall because they had that gap from negative numbers in seventh grade and decimals from fifth grade and fractions from fourth grade, and the algebra just doesn't make sense, not because the algebra, but because of those gaps, and it's the opposite in other domains. In fact this isn't actually the way that even traditional education has always been done, if you were lucky enough to get an education 1000 years ago, and very few people got an education 1000 years ago, but those who did you were probably a prince or nobility of some kind, and you would've had a private tutor, and if that private tutor saw that you had a 20% gap, they'll say, "Okay, I'm going to keep Working with you, I'm going to personalize it for you, I'm going to make sure you master that concept." Similarly, in martial art, if you're a white belt and you want to level up to the yellow belt, and you go take the whatever the challenge, and if you're not there yet, the instructor doesn't say, "Okay, here's the yellow belt, even though you've kind of not mastered white belt, but hopefully it'll work out well." They'll say, "No, keep working on your skills and come back." So that you're building on a really, really strong foundation. It's how musical instruments would be learned, but the reason why we have this system where we allow these gaps, is about 200, 250 years ago, when society made I thought a very positive utopian bet that everyone needs an education. Our mission free world class education for anyone, anywhere. That's arguably the mission of the global education system. They had to make a compromise 'because it wasn't economic with the technology at the time to allow for personalization for mastery learning, you had a class of 30. How does one teacher personalized for 30? So that's where you started moving to this kind of factory model lockstep instruction. But now I think we can get the best of both worlds where a teacher with a class of 30, can be supported by a Khan Academy where every student can learn at their own time and pace, and then the teacher can be informed with the data on who's progressing fine, who's ready for intervention to get unstuck, or maybe everyone's ready to do a higher order task, have a dialogue or something like that.
Mohamed - Shifting to today, "The Wall Street Journal" had an article a couple of weeks ago, that basically declared with a big headline, remote learning does not work. Give us your thoughts 'because a lot of us didn't get introduced to the concept of remote learning till March, but you've been working on this for 10 plus years, and what are the thoughts on that?
Sal - Yeah, I think I would say well, full remote learning is sub optimal Let's just be very clear, I'm often times considered like a poster child for whatever EdTech or, but I will be the first to say it, that if for my own children and frankly, anyone's children, if I had to pick between an amazing teacher, and amazing technology, I would pick the amazing teacher at any time, and if I had to pick between distance learning and in classroom learning with an amazing teacher and amazing community and socialization, I would pick the in person every time, assuming there wasn't a pandemic. Now obviously, there are constraints on our life now, and so this is sub optimal, I think what's going on right now is a lot of what we've talked about for many years pre-pandemic, this idea that there's always a variance of students preparedness in any classroom, and just to kind of go through the motions of moving forward is hurting a lot of the kids 'because especially the kids who fallen behind their gaps, make it very hard for them to engage. We've always had school closures in the past called summer vacation. That's always been a time of not only learning, but also of atrophying of skills. Those things have now become even more pronounced, but those inequities, we've always taught that learning should not be bound by time or space. We've always known that, my children, if they come home, and they're working on their homework, and they need help, we are more likely to be in a position to help them or if we're not in a position to help them, we might have the resources to be able to get them tutor or some other type of learning program, while many families are not in a position to do that, so that not being supported at home or during summers is another major source of inequity. So this is all pre-COVID, and now you get into the COVID world and I think everything just got a lot worse, where it's unfortunate but the school systems that for the most part have been better resourced have been in a better position to actually continue some form of reasonably good fidelity distance learning. I think a lot of the school districts that have a large high need population, they had to think not just about the distance learning, they had to think about, how do we get school lunches to folks? How do we support special need kids? There's all sorts of other things that the school does in terms of just social emotional supports, incredibly complex. And then of course, there's the digital divide issue, and I would say at least in the U.S., we've done a decent job, not a perfect job, but a decent job of closing the digital divide in schools. Most schools in the U.S. at least urban schools have some reasonable laptop or internet access in the school, but obviously COVID has now put a big spotlight on the digital divide at home, and that is very pronounced, and so what we've been seeing in a lot of school districts are, 10%, 15% of the kids just don't have access, and then even when they do, they don't have the supports to engage whatever those supports might be. Now, sometimes that has, in the name of equity, some districts or even some states that okay therefore we should not do any distance learning. I think that is a mistake because what I point out is, if you take away, if you do nothing essentially, if you take away distance learning in the name of equity saying, "Okay, if we can't reach everyone, we're not going to reach anyone." What happens is the top 50%, they're going to figure out a way to keep their kids learning, one way or the other, and they’re going to do it. And so if you completely pull out and say, because 10% or 15%, aren't able to access just yet, you're actually leaving behind about 35% of high need kids who might have basic level of internet, they might have access to a cell phone, But if they're not getting any supports, they too will also fall behind, so you're definitely driving more inequity, if you don't have some form of distance learning. Now with that said, when you do implement the distance learning, the way I figure it is, it's like putting out a fire, just because you can't put out the whole fire at once you don't ignore the fire. You work on the pieces that you can work on, and then that isolates and narrows the problem, and so we've seen a lot of districts do that really well, where they implement some form of distance learning and they say, "Okay, now who's being lost? Okay, how do we get those kids and their families’ laptops and internet access? Okay, now that we got that, we still see some kids are disengaged, how do we make sure that social workers checking in with those families over Zoom or whatever else?" So it's a multi step process. So I don't disagree with that headline, and most headlines are meant to be provocative, but I definitely don't, I would strongly disagree with the alternative which is don't do distance learning, and also have school closures, which means you're going to lose a generation of kids.
Mohamed - Let's talk about that for a second. And right now there's very uncertain times around what happens in the fall, whether it's the federal or state or local levels are going to make the decision? Is it going to be a hybrid, remote or in person? We tend to put the responsibility a little bit on the schools or the authorities to do that, but as parents, as students, what can we do in order to make sure that regardless of what the channel that we go through, it works fine.
Sal - Yeah, I think this is the uncertainty, I think is only increasing day by day, which is not a good scenario to be in right now. I think it's going to be very hodgepodge as we go into back to school the next six to eight weeks, I think what even in the same school district, there's going to be very inconsistent experiences, but even in, for sure in the same city, and if you go to different states, it's going to be or different countries, very different experiences, I would say, so what I'm hearing from the school, New York City just announced that they're going to do one to three days, in or out, some of the Bay Area school system, some of them just said, "we're going to be full virtual." some of them are trying to do some shift based model. I think many people are trying to make sure that the youngest kids are able to get something, some outdoor tent based classroom, socialization distanced, with masks on, so that they still get some support, socialization, and frankly that's where the childcare issue is really important, if you just want parents to do what the parents need to do, but it's every day I'm hearing new data points, even from local schools, so as a parent and I'm a parent of three children, I think as much as possible, hopefully, the school district is able to do productive things going forward but I do think this is a position where as a parent, you just say, "Okay, I need to make sure that my children are getting at least a minimum dosage of the basics of math, reading and writing." And it doesn't mean you have to, re remake the entire school day, that's impossible. But as long as your child is getting, depending on the age, the older the age, middle high school, a little bit more, the younger, less, if you're talking about early elementary, 20 minutes a day, in math, reading and writing, each of those, the older kids maybe 30, 40 minutes, 60 minutes a day of math, reading and writing. The math side, that's where Khan Academy, kids can learn at their own time and pace, we have these Get Ready for Grade Level courses, grade level courses, we're going to be publishing learning plans for families and teachers. If students just engage on that 30, 40 minutes a day, I feel very confident that they will not only, whoops, just drop my keys, that they not only would not atrophy, but they'll actually continue to progress, and actually might even progress more than expected and summer is a great time to start, to just make sure that those skills don't go away, on the reading side, Khan Academy has tools in English and language arts, there's other online things, but it literally could be as simple as, come up with some interesting things for your child to read. Look at the local magazine or get a book list and there's great book lists, we've published daily schedules on Khan Academy that have books lists in them, I'm big fan for those actually. Let's see do I have it here? There's this education, I didn't realize I was going to plug this but like E.D. Hirsch, who's a well-known pedagogue, I guess you could say, and he's a big believer in, and there's a core amount of content that students need to know, and so he publishes these books, like "What Your Third Grader Needs to Know", and he's also published "What Your Second Grader Needs to Know", "What Your Fourth Grader", it goes all the way I believe, to 11th or 12th grade. So I think a combination of like Khan Academy, especially for the math and science, and that I'm actually making my kids, like even during summer, I'm like, in each section of this book, come tell me something that you learn today, and it literally takes them like 20 minutes, but then my son just came up to me, he's like, oh, I didn't realize why deserts exists. I'm like, oh, where do you learn? And so just that conversation about it, every day is really interesting, and then if you can get them to just do a little bit of writing every day, a little bit of a journaling, it could even be a paragraph or just a little journal of like, hey, pick an issue, what's your opinion about it? What's your opinion about whether schools should be closed or not? Something that they care about. I think that's how you can ensure that this will be a productive baseline, and then obviously if your school is able to do more than that, that's much better.
Mohamed - I think that's also an important point because I think for a lot of us that are used to our kids when they went to school, we dropped them off at eight o'clock, or 8:30, or whatever it is and we pick them up at three, and we're expecting that the equivalent amount of time should be spent in learning at home, but with remote learning, that may not necessarily be the case. Like as you said 20, 30 minutes math, 20, 30 minutes writing and kind of just having that structure and routine is helpful. Any advice on how do you enforce that? Or how do you do that with your kids?
Sal - Yeah, I look, anyone who would observe my household on an average day would realize that it should be more of a two way conversation than me just giving advice. Like I found my 11 year old is actually doing a great job and also my nine year old she's, and a lot of the credit goes to their teacher and their school because they've been essentially building a lot of these independent practices before COVID. The school has been very focused on that. And the teachers are doing a great job, doing a weekly check in over Zoom and making sure they're reaching their goal, so they've been very engaged. Our five and a half year old, who you've met, he's been a little bit more difficult, but even he, we've gotten advice, I was never at home, I've never home schooled someone before, and so some of the homeschooling parents I know said look, you just have to stick with it, have consistency, have clear carrots and sticks, sometimes an extrinsic motivator and eventually they kind of will get used to the pattern and we are seeing that with even our five and a half year old, and it's still not easy. We had a little incident a little while ago just now, but he is getting more used to the pattern and I think he at least is progressing and for parents out there, we have khan Academy Kids, khan Academy Kids has math, reading and writing, social emotional learning, from Pre-K, kindergarten, first grade. So if you have kids in that zone, if they're able to do even 30 minutes a day of khan Academy Kids, can even be in two 15 minute sessions. It could be while they're sitting in your lap and you're doing it together. I think they will progress and then above and beyond that, if you can make them feel a little bit of handwriting, write their letters, do reading with them, or if they're ready for them to read, they're not going to atrophy and they're going to continue to progress. But yeah, I think it's all about consistency, Patterns, get everyone gets ready in the morning, consistent time for breakfast is what we've been learning from other families and seems to work.
Mohamed - Just a side note, last time I saw your five and a half year old, he had made a pair of shoes made out of cardboard, and it was wonderful. Like he had woke up one morning and put them together and it was pretty funny to see.
Sal - Yeah, I remember what his sister made those shoes for him. He demanded that he needed new shoes, and she made some which I was impressed by.
Mohamed - So past couple months have been crazy for a lot of people, but especially probably for you guys, what happened with user ship? If you're over 100 million people using off the basis but how's that going?
Sal - Yeah, when we, let's see, this is what end of, feels like a lifetime ago, I think for everybody, but in February was when we first caught wind that even we were relevant to what was happening with COVID-19. That's when we started getting letters, actually a letter, I remember one letter from South Korea, teacher saying, “Hey, South Korean schools are shut down because of the pandemic. We're using Khan Academy to keep everyone learning." and I was like, oh, wow, I didn't even process it that was happening in the world. And then you get into early March, and out here in the Bay Area, and California in the Bay Area in particular was kind of one of the first places that started taking this very seriously. And we start saying, "Wow, this maybe might happen in California." And that's when we said, “We kind of like look left, look right," and said, "I think this is us." 'Because we could have never foreseen this situation, but obviously what we've been working on over the past decade plus, the world's going to need stuff that works well for teachers in a school setting, but also works well for consumer, kind of students on their own and parents on their own. It has to cover across subjects and grades, it has to be as accessible as possible, it has to be as free as possible, ideally free, it has to be trusted, and when you put all those constraints, that's kind of Khan Academy. And so that's when we started stress testing our servers, thinking, oh, we might see more traffic, we started putting out more tools, more training for teachers and parents, and then that first week that we all remember when the school started shutting down first in California than the rest of the country. Monday our traffic was up 80%, Tuesday was up 125%, and then it kind of stabilized at around 250% to 300% of normal. And we've just been full court press ever since then, and as the school year ended, the summer is still very elevated, but now we are just super focused on this coming back to school, that's why we're getting those Get Ready for Grade Level courses. That's why we're continuing to do the teacher training, we're developing lesson plans and even kind of baseline curricula that can be used, and 'because your traditional curricula aren't relevant in a world where you're doing some work on your own time and pace, and then you're meeting on Zoom two or three times a week. So we're trying to support as many people in that way as possible and I suspect, given all the uncertainty and with COVID and school closures that we're going to see at least the 300% traffic growth, and demand that we saw in the spring, maybe more.
Mohamed - Just drifting to college for a second. It seems like because of the most recent impact, there's a lot of anxiety by a lot of people around here what happens next year, and does this become kind of an entire generation gap here and how do you mitigate that?
Sal - It's fascinating, I mean, both from a mostly negative point of view, although it might lead to kind of innovation that might be in the long run positive or silver lining? And this year for sure we hear a lot of people taking a gap year or they definitely very few people are inclined to pay for expensive in person college experience when it's not in person and you're not going to, use the student center, throw a Frisbee or on the quad or hang out late night with your friends in the dorm room 'because you're not there. So yeah, I'm hearing a lot of kids take gap years or maybe, your community colleges or online colleges, which are a lot more cost effective, are a lot more appealing for a lot of students. I think it's interesting to think about what's going to happen long term. The large research universities are probably going to be fine. They have big endowments, but there's a lot of universities that were already on kind of in financial difficulties pre-COVID. And when they're not able to fill a class or charge full tuition for a year at least, I think you're going to see a lot of kind of college bankruptcies. I just talked to someone who's, actually two different people whose expert in kind of vaccine development, and what they said is, what you're not hearing in the news is, we'll be lucky to have an effective vaccine by the end of 2021 and then it will take three to six months for it to be widely available, and you're not hearing this in the news, frankly 'because maybe it's just, none of us want to think about that but that would describe a reality where it's not just this entire school year, but it's also next school year. And then the gap year model doesn't, how much of a gap are you going to take on but I think that's going to create kind of existential issues for a lot of the smaller universities, but I think it's also going to drive innovation for all universities to kind of rethink their model altogether. Like if you're able to learn the core academics in some hybrid or virtual setting, maybe you can continue to do so, and then maybe there's ways to connect students physically, meet at a park with masks on, whatever, so that you can still get some of that socialization, but it's interesting, I saw on the message boards, there's a question about, Khan Academy, there's someone who's using edX and we go through, we say we're K through 14, we go through kind of your freshman and sophomore general ed. So we do your calculus, your stats, your physics, chemistry, biology, econ, American history, things like that. But between some of that the MOOC work, the edX, Coursers of the world. I think you're going to see a lot of focus on that. At least this coming year.
Mohamed - There was another question that came about Khan, what awesome features of Khan Academy that we're not using or things that you're excited about that you could share?
Sal - Yeah, so well, it depends how familiar people are with Khan Academy maybe some people watching know all about our awesome features. So a lot of people who know about Khan or heard of it. They kind of associate us with math and math videos in particular and that is definitely part of what we do, but most of our resources are actually on the interactive exercise side, because that's actually how you learn, you learn by trying to do something, get feedback and keep going and we have some game mechanics to keep you motivated. so for all the parents and students who aren't aware, you can go to Khan Academy and math is where we're deepest, but we have physics, chemistry, bio, all those things that I just listed, where you can practice at your own pace, get immediate feedback, there's a functionally unlimited practice, so you can just make sure that you master the concepts. The videos are there to supplement if you need it, but it really is all about that deliberate practice and that feedback, so I would definitely look at that. For students who know the material, we have things like unit tests and course challenges in any course, where you can assess how well something already, and then you can zero in on what you need to focus on. We just launched these Get Ready for Grade Level courses. So let's say you're entering sixth grade, we have a sixth grade course which you can do at your own time and pace, but now we have a get getting ready for sixth grade course, and so that's a way that a student can go in, they can start with the course challenge, they can take it, if they get a 90% of that course challenge, they're ready to move on to sixth grade, but if they get an 80%, 70%, then they should dig into those skills that they missed, and if they got a 40% or 50%, they should really make sure that they can master all of those things. A few other things that people, khan Academy Kids is relatively new, although it's COVID has made it very popular. I encourage people to look at that. There's hundreds of books in it. It's not just like your narrow early learning app. It's literally probably 100 apps in one, everything I'm talking about is free. It's funded with philanthropy. So anyone who's in a position to do so, please think about donating. I want to thank First Republic for making a donation to support all of this, I would say that's where the official practice for the SAT with the College Board. So that's there a majority of all kids practicing for the SAT use Khan Academy. The PSAT acts as a diagnostic for personalized practice on Khan Academy now, I have another side project actually now, it's officially not a Khan Academy project, but it's complimentary and it's very relevant to this conversation. It's called schoolhouse.world. Where there's the issue of Khan Academy where you're able to learn at your own pace, get practice feedback, teachers or parents can monitor and intervene as necessary, but how do we make sure more students have access to live-in-person help, and so there's always been this idea, I wrote the book in back in 2012, "One World Schoolhouse." Won't it'd be cool if there was a way that volunteer teachers and tutors could run live sessions over video conference with kids around the world? Well, you can imagine COVID this is even more important. A lot of teachers are doing that, but a lot of kids don't have access to that. So in schoolhouse.world, kids can go and we're starting in high school math, but we're going to expand soon to all subjects, but high school math today, a student can go say, "I need help in this topic." And they can see all the group tutoring sessions that are being scheduled and we have hundreds of volunteer tutors and it's growing every week. It's going to be thousands of volunteer tutors soon. Who are there a tutor those kids, so I encourage anyone to check that out. That's only a two week old project. So it's kind of still at the early stage of social engineering but my hope is, as we go into back to school that will be yet another support for a lot of hundreds of thousands or in Khan Academy's case, tens of millions of kids.
Mohamed - Speaking of that, I think we touched on it but if you think next year, five years down the road, what is in store for the Khan Academy for so?
Sal - Lets just let hope for post-COVID by then, our long term vision of Khan Academy, mission free world class education for anyone, anywhere. Long term vision, there's three pillars to that. one is everyone on the planet should have access to world class materials that let them learn from wherever they are as early as Pre-K, all the way to the core of college and that's in math, reading, writing, social sciences and sciences, and maybe even other subjects like social emotional learning or career and things like that. That's one pillar. The second pillar is, they should be able to do it in an engaging and personalized way and so that gets into our conversation about if you have gaps, you should be able to address those gaps. The system should be student centered, it should flex around what the student is ready to learn versus just lockstep, applying something to them and hoping that they get some of it, and then the last piece is a way for people to prove what they know, so that they can get into college, or they can get a job or get an apprenticeship. And so I hope in five years, We are, I would say on that first pillar of content, we're probably 60% of the way already in math and sciences where we're strongest we're starting to go into humanities, I would say on the personalization, I would say we're also probably about 60 70% of the way there, it's already personalized, but there's a lot that we want to do to make that better. And then on the credentialing side, that's where I would say we're 10% there, 20% there, right now you can get mastery on Khan Academy, and I guess you could print that out or take a screenshot and show someone, but it isn't yet viewed as kind of currency in the world. I think COVID might change that, the Head of Admissions at University Chicago, recently told me that he would love to see children's mastery on Khan Academy or students masters Academy as an indicator, because not only does that show that they know, say calculus or statistics, it's an indicator that the student has agency and that they're willing to do independent work and work on things even if someone's not telling them to do it, which is a sign of college readiness. I hope in five years that that is even a more formal thing that anyone in the world can prove what they know, and it's a big difference from credentials or standardized testing today, credentials or standardized testing today, you go and you either make it or you don't. If you make it you get the credential, you get the good SAT score but if you don't, you're kind of like branded is like you didn't make it in a mastery learning world. If you don't make it the first time, no big deal. Just keep trying and if it takes you a little longer, eventually all that matters is that you eventually get to that level of competency. And I'm hoping that we reach, pre-COVID was about 20 million students a month, COVID we saw the number of students grow by about 50%, 60%, and they were spending about 50%, 60% more time. That's what got us to that 250%, 300%. So we're talking about 30 million students a month, I hope in five years, we're able to, that number is 300 million students a month, or a large chunk of humanity is able to really engage and be empowered by these resources.
Mohamed - And on that point, as you think about the entire population of the world for education, have you had any advice or courses or classes that are more tailored towards special needs children or children on the autism spectrum?
Sal - Yeah, unfortunately we don't yet. We don't have that, and we haven't done studies even with our existing resources with students with special needs. So that's that. I will say and you take this with a huge grain of salt. This is not a research study. This is just me saying anecdotal, we have heard we've gotten letters or I've heard directly from some families or from some students where, a student with dyslexia or maybe autism or some other special need, for it's worth trying because we've heard stories for some of these kids, it really has helped them, they've been able to learn at their own time and pace, for those of y'all who have seen the videos, our videos are very organic looking. It's not like tight, the ones I make, you can see writing while there's a narration, and I've heard for dyslexic students that's very valuable. We use a lot of colors to kind of Express meaning and things. Obviously, you can pause, repeat, watch it at half speed, watch it a double speed. And so that helps a student who might not otherwise be able to process at the same rate, and frankly, every student as we know, is not ready to process at the same rate depending on where they are. So yeah, take that for what it's worth, but its worth, I think it's worth trying. If you're a parent or if you're a student with some special needs.
Mohamed - We'll just look at some of the questions that have been coming through for the question that says, I'm interested in learning more about the digital divide that has been magnified during this time, and can you recommend any sites that you frequently visit and any updates on the issue specific to companies, organizations tackling that head on?
Sal - Yeah, we talked about this a major digital divide at home, even in wealthier country like the U.S. 20%, 30% of the population does not have suitable internet access to engage properly, and it's not even just about being able to use Khan Academy or do distance learning with your teacher. It's, right now. Imagine not being able to get on Zoom with family and friends, just for your mental health. And then imagine if you're not able to work or look for work, because you don't have internet access. So I think it's just an economic imperative, and for anyone who has lobbying power with the government, My back of the envelope, it would cost a few tens of billions to get everyone in the U.S. suitable internet access, and that obviously is a large number until you compare it to the federal budget and how much has been spent in these various stimulus programs. Each of these rounds of stimulus have been on the order of a trillion dollars. And so we're talking about roughly 1% to get everyone in the country internet access, it's good for the economy, even if you're kind of a hard nosed capitalist and you're not doing it for moral principles. It's good for the economy, more people engage, more people can do remote work, more people are going to be able to be productive. And frankly even engage in the economy, buy things online, whatever. So I think that's one layer of it. I think we've been in close consultation with philanthropists, school districts, corporations, that have been doing great work to help close the digital divide. New York City public schools distributed close to 300,000 laptops in the last two months of the school year. Miami Dade did I think 200,000, Los Angeles did a similar number, so school districts are doing good things, they're partnering with the Comcast and the AT&Ts of the world, who have done the right thing and are giving free internet access over the course of this crisis. But what we're also seeing is even when we are able to at least kind of close the digital divide from the technology point of view. There's families where you can imagine if there's six people living in a small apartment, that's the only device, the kids aren't even getting access to it because dad needs to look for a job. Mom needs to, who knows what, and there's two or three kids, it's hard for the student to be able to do proper distance learning, if they need the device for a couple hours a day. So it's hard, it's a multi factorial problem, but anyone out there who's in a position to influence, I think you can do it at a local level. Support organizations that are trying to close the digital divide, even when the devices and the internet is there, how do we support kids so that they can they can engage and then as much as we can, tell our politicians that this is a no brainer, and I have trouble imagining how this could even be vaguely partisan, that every American, that it really should be like clean drinking water or heat right now that you should have internet access, just to engage.
Mohamed - Question from one of the attendees. Have you thought about adult learning?
Sal - Yeah, so I mean there's a couple of layers of adult learning. I mean a lot of adults use what we already have on Khan Academy, and as you can imagine a lot of adults who are either going back to school, want to get an associate's degree, want to finish their GED, and want to go back to college. Khan Academy is for many of them, their go to resource, we get a lot of letters to that effect every day, 'because we do go through your freshman level biology, chemistry, physics, calculus. And the kind of secret is, if you've mastered those courses, you're actually quite educated. I can't tell you how many people have a college degree and in biology but if you ask them like, well explain photosynthesis is like, yeah, it had something to do with mitochondria, and our system we invest a lot of resources and time, but if you actually measure retention, I think most of us would feel a little bit embarrassed. So you can master a lot and so then it's just a matter of how do you connect that to actually proof and being able to engage in the in the world, but my long term dream is yes, absolutely, I would love to connect people with opportunity. We focus less on, what I would call less evergreen content. So we don't do the content of like, how to use Photoshop version 13, I don't even know what version of Photoshop is on now or how do you use this accounting software that which might be more job specific, but we know most jobs, even most good jobs, you don't need to know a lot of job specific stuff. A lot of that can be learned on the job, what you're really looking for, when we're hiring at Khan Academy, especially, kind of generalist work, someone who communicates well, that's oral communication, written communication, someone who can kind of show up professionally to work, someone who's decent critical thinking skills, and someone who's got their heart and ego in the right place, that person is going to do very well in the workforce. They don't have to be a PhD and whatever else for most good jobs. So yeah, that's our current, if you can get to that core of college, you actually have a lot of the skills you need,
Mohamed - We are running a little bit out of time, but I'll squeeze in a couple more questions, we'll shift from martial arts to sci-fi, you're a huge sci-fi fan in that, in some ways has influenced your decision to be a non-profit. A lot of the questions are about why non-profit? Walk us through that.
Sal - Yeah, and I know I'm a sci-fi fan but you can also visually see there's a lot of sci-fi behind me. So and I've said this before, so around 2008, 2009, I was trying to figure out what to do with Khan Academy. As you can imagine I live out here in Mountain View in Silicon Valley, a lot of our friends are venture capitalists type people, and some of them said, "Hey, Sal, I'll write a check right now, you can quit your day job, set it up as a for-profit." And you can imagine it's very, very tempting. And the first conversations were all good, because it's like, hey, keep it free, etc. But then, the second or third conversation was like of course it's free, but then we'll have some premium content, or we just have to show this ad, we'll have the subscription, and there's just something that just kept feeling not right about it. I mean I completely understand why you need to do that for a lot of businesses, and I think a lot of good in the world have, I'm a capitalist, I believe in capitalism. But when I really thought about some of the letters I was getting from people around the world, I was like, well that person might not have been able to access their potential if we put a paywall, if we made it even an ad in front of it. If there's a young child who wants to learn negative numbers, should they have to watch an ad for something before they do that? So it didn't feel right. And so then I started kind of developing a philosophy around this, my day job I was a hedge fund analyst, every day I talked to five, six, publicly traded companies and I saw how much capital structure and ownership drove behavior. And I said, "Well, what are the institutions that have been able to stay true to a social mission over long periods of time?" and they've been non-profits, they've been the great universities, great museums of the world. And then I just kind of went through a thought experiment of imagine a home run as a for-profit, maybe you turn to a Google or Facebook, that's great. But imagine a home run as a not-for-profit, maybe it could be the next Oxford or the next Smithsonian system, and even when I was thinking about this in 2008, Khan Academy was already reaching more folks in a year than Oxford had in its history. And I was like, what if this could one day reach billions and billions of people and be an institution like that? And I was like, well, why non-profit in this space? Well, capitalism works in a lot of places, but sometimes markets don't. Either don't function because for some weird reason, or they function, but they lead to outcomes that aren't consistent with our values, and I think education is one place where the buyer or the payer, the decision maker and the beneficiary, they're all different people, and what and so that leads to weird market forces, and then even when the market does exist, you leave a lot of people not being able to access because of that, and I think you could see something similar in healthcare as well. So that helped inform, and then the other piece was, as you mentioned, I read a lot of science fiction and I remember in seventh grade, reading the foundation series, Isaac Asimov, I think I have it. Yeah, right here, I have the "Foundation." I'm plugging a lot of books today. But in the "Foundation," it happens 30,000 years in the future, humanity has colonize the galaxy, and there's this academic mathematician economists like, psychologist named Harry Seldon, who's able to predict large scale historical movements using his science, and he sees that the Galactic Empire is about to enter into a 10,000 year dark ages, high probability of that, and he decides to do something about it. He wants to collect the civilizations knowledge and store it at the periphery of the galaxy, so that he can shorten that dark ages from 10,000 years to 1000 years. And I remember when I read that in seventh grade thinking, wow, Harry Seldon, the protagonist is right. Like if you really wanted to preserve civilization, prevent the dark ages or shorten the dark ages. It's all about knowledge. It's all about preserving knowledge, and it's all about sharing it so that, humans can reach their potential. and I remember also being inspired by, wow, do people even think on that scale, beyond the next bonus cycle, or even beyond their own careers, and as I went into the hedge fund world, in my career, I was like, wow, people have even a more short term view than I assumed as a seventh grader, like people just want that, what's going to be the earnings per share the next quarter, not much less, what can we do for billions of people, over the next 100 years or 500 years and so, between the science fiction, between the maybe Khan Academy could, the next type of global institution for billions of people between the market forces kind of breaking down in education. That was kind of the bet, that maybe we could be this type of institution for the world.
Mohamed - And Sal you've done a phenomenal job of that, and one of the things that always inspires me about the Khan Academy, its impact on access to education in a very simple way that levels the playing field, where everybody has access to opportunities, if they're willing to seek the education and able to access it and access the internet, and as simple as spending some time getting the right education. Would love to get your thoughts. I know that we're living in a period of a little bit of social unrest. What do you think the Khan Academy's role in?
Sal - Yeah, I mean, obviously you can imagine we've had very robust conversations inside of organizations. What are our role? Obviously, like many organizations, we've come out in support of Black Lives Matter. We've come out saying this is a major issue but that's kind of just the minimum, like, what can we actually do? Especially in our lane, so to speak. I think we have levers where... Well, we covered topics like American history and world history and civics, and I think that's a place where we can deliver a version of these courses that shows history as it truly is, has multiple narratives and multiple perspectives in it. I'm really proud that I got two different data points in the last year. One was when it was actually a federal court, a conservative federal judge heard that we were doing civics, he was skeptical. He's like, oh, this is going to be these California liberals. They're going to give their, and he looked at our civics and government. He's like, no, this is they've represented what the constitution has about and the debates around it, and then recently, I was on a panel with a progressive, I would say a liberal progressive educator said, "Oh, let's see what y'all are doing on, how y'all have treated American history, make sure the voices are there." And he's like, wow, y'all honestly covered reconstruction and slavery and all that. And so it's a hard, especially in the social sciences and humanities, it's a hard needle to thread, but I do think there's actually surprising common ground, at least in our country, I think if you go to other countries, it gets a little bit harder, countries where your and my families are from, I think it gets a little bit harder, but I think at least in our country, there's a way that we can help get all of the narratives and perspectives out there. Is one, I think, a big piece of Khan Academy, the reason we want to be free or we are free, is so that we can especially reach the students who need us most, and so there's the equality lens, everyone should have access, and then there's the equity lens of making sure that an African American student can see that this topic is for them as well. It's not only for them, it's for everyone. But it is that they for sure feel included in it. I think these are interesting and that's just in the U.S., and as you mentioned we're in 190 countries. So we need to think about how to do that right, because it's a different flavor of social justice issue. They can be kind of rhyme with each other, from pretty much every geography.
Mohamed - Thank you Sal. You are a non-profit, we are proud to support the Khan Academy and we would urge anybody in a position to support the Khan Academy to continue to do so. And do so generously because your mission is just inspiring and the way you're able to reach all corners of the world is absolutely amazing, and we really appreciate you spending time with us today. Any final thoughts? Anything on your mind?
Sal - Yeah, no, and I appreciate saying that Mohamed, and then I will just double down on and make it a bit of a shameless plug. Any way you look at the social ROI, we're the budget of a large high school and we reach over 100 million folks, we've done actually more formal calculations of social return on investment, and a good investment in the social realm, you might have a two or three X impact to cost ratio, and there's ways of calculating that, any way you look at Khan Academy, it's a 500 to one or 1000 to one, and we're running at a deficit, and we continue to run at a deficit, a larger deficit because of COVID and our increased costs. So if you're in a position to do so, please think about donating, I really appreciate First Republic's, y'all been in support of us as an organization. We've been doing banking through y'all, and obviously y'all have made a very generous donation to our mission and anyone listening out there. We need more support. So thanks Mohamed for that for that blog.
Mohamed - No problem, thank you and thank you everyone for joining us today and have a great weekend.
Sal - Thanks everyone.