Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Sal Khan, Khan Academy and Ed Tech Venture Capital

A WONDERFUL and important cover story in this week’s Forbes about Sal Khan, Khan Academies, and the big surge in venture capital investments in education technology:

It’s a prototypical Silicon Valley ethos, with one exception: The Khan Academy, which features 3,400 short instructional videos along with interactive quizzes and tools for teachers to chart student progress, is a nonprofit, boasting a mission of “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” There is no employee equity; there will be no IPO; funding comes from philanthropists, not venture capitalists.

“I could have started a for-profit, venture-backed business that has a good spirit, and I think there are many of them–Google for instance,” says Khan, his eyes dancing below his self-described unibrow. “Maybe I could reach a billion people. That is high impact, but what happens in 50 years?”

It’s a fair question, with an increasingly sure answer: The next half-century of education innovation is being shaped right now. After decades of yammering about “reform,” with more and more money spent on declining results, technology is finally poised to disrupt how people learn. And that creates immense opportunities for both for-profit entrepreneurs and nonprofit agitators like Khan.

How immense? According to a report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, global spending on education is $3.9 trillion, or 5.6% of planetary GDP. America spends the most–about $1.3 trillion a year–yet the U.S. ranks 25th out of the 34 OECD countries in mathematics, 17th in science and 14th in reading. And, as in so many other areas of American life, those averages obscure a deeper divide: The U.S. is the only developed country to have high proportions of both top and bottom performers. About a fifth of American 15-year-olds do not have basic competence in science; 23% can’t use math in daily life.

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