The Other Salman Khan

If you were to ask anyone in India, there would only be one Salman Khan. Superstar, breaker of bones and hearts in equal measure on the big screen. He has had a chequered career, careening from lover boy to desperate romantic, his name linked to some of the most beautiful actresses he co-starred with. His movies are box office manna and slurped with unswerving devotion by his huge tribe of fans. For a short time, his reign was eclipsed by a series of flops before he came charging back with a movie called ‘Wanted‘. It had a punchline that played out on all the channels – Ek baar jo maine commitment kardi, uskay baad toh mein apni bhi nahi sunta … Loosely translated it means – ‘Once I make a commitment to anyone, I don’t even listen to myself until it’s done!’

In Silicon Valley, however, it’s not the Salman Khan brawn that’s making waves, it’s another Salman Khan’s commitment. Breaking out during his TED talk, the other Salman Khan strode the stage having captured the imagination of no less a celebrity than Bill Gates – who announced that he had seen the future of education. A former hedge fund analyst, Salman Khan started Khan Academy almost by accident, by putting up tutorials on YouTube for his cousins who were living in another city to learn the basics of mathematics and science concepts. The videos are simple screen cams created on Microsoft Paint with his voice over, much like the scrawls on the blackboard by thousands of teachers in real classrooms. The difference was that these videos helped kids from several countries tune in and learn. Khan had discovered the benefit of letting children set at their own pace, unimpeded by peer pressure. If they did not understand, they could rewind and view the same lessons again and again.Sure, a whole lot of e-learning material is supposed to do all this with sophisticated animation and graphics but Khan gets into their heads much better. He’s in his ‘Element’, the zone where none can touch him.

From there, the Khan Academy launched a school project for the Los Altos school board. Children tune into the videos in class and learn at their pace. Teachers navigate a dashboard to monitor how students are doing. It isn’t one size fits all. The ones who learn slowly are helped by their classmates. The teachers concentrate on being moderators, not in dumbing down the lessons to the whole class and frustrating the quick learners. It could become the way schools work in future rather than concentrate on rote learning. Two Salman Khans. The right brain celebrity and the left brain one. One delivers facts and the other delivers fun. Quite a coincidence!