There is a well-known anecdote of how Dilip Kumar, the thespian of yesteryear, now 93, was on a flight, with Jal R.D. Tata, who headed the Tata industrial empire then, seated next to him. Kumar, who was used to being mobbed by people wherever he went, was surprised to find that Tata did not even spare him a look. He struck up a conversation with the stranger, and told him that he was a leading actor in films. Even this did not get the neighbour excited. There are different versions about how the conversation ended, but the point has been made.

This, of course, was in the 1950s, when there was no TV in India, and only a handful of film magazines were being published, and the story may even be apocryphal. It is highly improbable that someone in a flight would not recognise one of the Khans. Their fan following and popularity knows no limits.  But this sort of adulation is reserved only for Bollywood or cricket stars. And so, many may not know of Salman Khan, not the actor, who richly deserves to be made known to all, for all the right reasons. Surprisingly, Jal Tata’s present-day successor, Ratan Tata, knows this Sal Khan quite well.

So should you. Why? I must tell you.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, to immigrant parents from Bangladesh and India,  Khan  has three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an MBA from Harvard University. He is the founder of the world’s largest open-access online educators, the Khan Academy. With a simple slogan, “You can learn anything,” the Khan Academy has set out to educate the world.

A personalised learning resource for all ages
Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalised learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace, in and outside the classroom. They tackle mathematics, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. Their math missions guide learners from kindergarten to calculus, using state-of-the-art, adaptive technology that identifies strengths and learning gaps. It has partnered with institutions like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT. It offers specialised content and free tools for parents and teachers.


A special feature of the Academy is that empowers coaches of all kinds to better understand what their children or students are up to, and how best to help them. They can see at a glance whether a child or student is struggling, or if she has hit a rising streak, and is now far ahead of the class. The coach dashboard provides a summary of class performance as a whole, as well as detailed student profiles.

From humble beginnings to a world-class team

How did it all start?  In late 2004, Khan began tutoring his cousin Nadia, who needed help with maths, using Yahoo!'s Doodle notepad. When other relatives and friends sought similar help, he decided that it would be more practical to distribute the tutorials on YouTube. The videos' popularity and the testimonials of appreciative students prompted Khan to quit his job in finance (as a hedge fund analyst at Connective Capital Management) in 2009, and focus on the tutorials (then released under the moniker ‘Khan Academy’) full-time. Thus came into being the Khan Academy, which offers free, online tutorial to school children across the world. What started as one man tutoring his cousin has grown into an 80-strong organisation.  It’s a diverse team that has come together to work on an audacious mission: to provide a free world- class education for anyone, anywhere.

In the beginning, Khan Academy offered videos mostly about mathematics. Thanks to donations (the first of significance was from philanthropist Ann Doerr), Khan Academy has been able to expand its faculty and offer courses about history, health-care, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology, American civics, art history, economics, music, computer programming and computer science There are more than 5,000 courses in all, as of 2015. In addition to faculty, the organisation has a network of content specialists.

Khan Academy also has thousands of resources translated into other languages. It launched the Spanish version of the website in September 2013, followed by the Brazilian, Portuguese, French, Turkish, and Hindi versions. It is supported by partners and volunteers in many languages, including Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), German, Spanish, Czech, French, Italian, Swahili, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Xhosa, Greek, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, and Chinese. Khan Academy's website has been translated to 23 languages, and its videos to 65.

Khan Academy in India

Recently, the Khan Academy announced a five-year, not-for-profit, partnership with the Ratan Tata-led Tata Trusts, to enable free online education for the Indian market. “We want to multiply literacy many times over,” said Mr. Tata, while announcing the alliance. “The Khan Academy partnership will enable us to deliver education free of cost to anyone, and at any time and any place, with just the help of a connected device.”


This multi-million dollar partnership will look at hiring Indian teachers, and teach in Indian languages through videos that are mapped to the Indian education system, especially National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks. It has already launched a Hindi portal.

About the alliance, Mr. Khan said both Tata Trusts and his academy recognise that technology penetration is a challenge in India, but with the proliferation of low-cost, web-enabled devices, that could be overcome soon. “We are not challenging the traditional means of classroom education, but we do want to catalyse new classrooms for the 21st century,” Mr Khan added.

Mr. Tata elaborated that the sheer professional opportunity available for Indian learners via an online model could change the way we look at education. “Even at the Tata Group, where we spend close to five per cent of our earnings on philanthropy, we have realised that the traditional methods of giving for education such as scholarships and funding for overseas, education need to change.” He said the Khan Academy will enhance the reach of the Tata Trusts to millions of students, giving it the platform needed to scale up.”

The five-year partnership will be divided into two phases, according to a joint media release by the Tata Trusts and the Khan Academy. The first two years will focus on “designing a robust set of educational resources, tuned to the needs of middle- and low-income students in urban environments”. The next phase will see diversification into other content areas, including offering classes in regional languages such as Marathi, Tamil and Bangla (Bengali).

Mr. Khan said his organisation has already begun subtitling English online classes into some languages, but it would need teachers speaking Indian languages, or even speaking English with an Indian accent, to go closer to the learner. "We're really excited--we are a not-for-profit organisation, with the mission of bringing free education to the world," said Salman Khan. "A part of the world which could use this kind of resource, and where my roots are from, is India," said Khan.


When Sal met Bill Gates

“The meeting happened on Aug. 22. I was waiting in a conference room, with several other people from the Gates Foundation. They reassured me that “Bill is just another human being. He’s completely cool.” After a few minutes, all the people in the room began to look a bit more serious than they had 30 seconds before. Bill Gates had walked in, and was standing behind me. Yeah, just another human being. I spent the next 15 minutes talking about what I thought the Khan Academy could do, and how we would do it. He asked me a few questions, and then said simply, “This is great.” Two days later, an article came out in Fortune magazine, titled “Bill Gates’ Favorite Teacher.” The headline was unreal. The article made my mother cry. It seemed that it was time for me to move out of my closet office.
As told by Salman Khan, in a story that appeared in the October 8, 2012, issue of Fortune



 The article is based on information available on the Khan Academy website.

Views expressed and claims made in the articles on this site are the contributors' own, and nrizone does not necessarily agree with them, or endorse them, in any way.
Contributions are published in good faith, with due diligence, and liabilities for authenticity or copyright lie with the authors.

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