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Sal Khan's non-profit online school began with free maths classes for his cousins

Sal Khan's non-profit online school began with free maths classes for his cousins
By Sergio Cantone
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The non-profit Khan Academy now provides thousands of online classes for people around the world


A tech entrepreneur who invested his time and expertise in creating a free global teaching network was awarded this year's Asturias Prize for international cooperation in Spain.

Sal Khan told Euronews his belief that no girl or boy should ever have to pay before they receive an education was the main motivation behind his successful, non-profit Khan Academy.

"We don’t want a world where if someone is bleeding, that you have to check their pocket books [to see] whether you treat them," he said in an interview after receiving his award.

"In the same way, we don’t want a world that if there is a young girl or boy who wants to learn that you have to check their pocket books before they learn. That was the main motivation."

Khan's organisation produces short lessons in the form of videos.

There are now around 20,000 closed-captioned pieces of footage available in five official languages and many other unofficial translations.

He said that his experience working for a hedge fund taught him that many private companies, including for-profit education companies, would often act in a way that was "not aligned with the actual needs of the students."

"That resonated with me when Khan Academy was happening, and so I do think that in education and probably healthcare, those are two spaces where the traditional market forces don’t lead to the best outcome."

He continued: "Education is the ultimate lifeline. Once you have your base necessity, if you have some basic food, basic shelter, safety, then education is what allows you to escape from whatever circumstance you might be in.

"You can't determine where people end up, but at least give them a little access to opportunities to get to reach their potential."

With internet access available in even some of the poorest, most remote parts of the world for just a few dollars or euros a month, Khan believes the potential to reach children on very low incomes is great.

"Now, if you go in a remote village in India they might not have electricity, they might not even have running water, but they now have internet access. And so that's exciting for us, because we can start to reach those students," he said.

"I think the only reason why we won't be able to reach certain areas is if that the governments don't allow access. And so that might be tricky in parts of Afghanistan [or] North Korea."

The idea for the Khan Academy came from the maths lessons he gave members cousins and other members of his immediate family. As the word spread, their success grew.

He recounted: "We started in math. That's where my cousins were having trouble, that's actually where a lot of my strengths were, and that's also where there is a lot of need. There's a lot of students around the world who were struggling in math especially, it's holding them back. So, that's where we started.

"We want do things like writing and literature, and many, many other subjects, but online, there are certain things we can do well, and certain things we can't do as well.

"And so our vision has always been: we will try to do as much as we can on our platform, and then hopefully when students go into a physical environment, into a traditional school, that will free up time, so they can do other things.

"I hope over time we can figure out ways to do most subjects and it can complement traditional schools."

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