Sal Khan has a simple mission: a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Naturally, people think he’s crazy. The craziest part is not the “world-class education” part, because plenty of people want that. And it’s not even the “for anyone, anywhere” part. It’s the “free” part.
Crazy or not, it’s an idea that has attracted attention from Downing Street to Washington DC. And like a lot of crazy ideas, it started by accident.
Khan – working as a financial analyst in 2004 after earning degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard – started remotely tutoring his cousin, Nadia, in Louisiana, who was struggling with maths. “Then the rest of the family heard there was free tutoring,” he says, and more relatives started taking part. The demands got too much – until a friend suggested he could film the tutorials, post them on YouTube and let the family members view them whenever they chose.
“YouTube? YouTube was for cats playing the piano, not serious mathematics,” Khan recalls thinking. “I got over the idea that it wasn’t my idea and decided to give it a shot.”