Introducing KA Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy
We're currently experiencing what we're calling an "online learning revolution" — but what about the 65% of the world that can't take advantage of it? KA Lite is a lightweight web app for serving core Khan Academy content (videos and exercises) without needing internet connectivity, from a local server. This is the story of how the project came about, and why I think it's important.
For more details, or to get started with using KA Lite, please visit the KA Lite homepage.
This article is part 2 of a 3-part series:
Part 1) What I was up to at Khan Academy this past summer: From Khanberry Pi to KA Lite
Part 2) Introducing KA Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy
Part 3) Technical aspects of KA Lite: taking the web offline
This past summer, I was very grateful for the opportunity to intern at Khan Academy, where I was surrounded by an incredibly talented team of developers, educators, and implementors, whose dedication and passion for the cause of teaching everything to everybody everywhere was matched only by their ability to have an insanely fun time in the process. I had a fantastic summer, and for anyone interested in education and development, I highly recommend that you apply (feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about the process or the experience). You can also read more about the time I spent at Khan Academy.
They are the 65%: Making universal education universal
Khan Academy's amazingly productive efforts to make Khan Academy content available in as many different languages as possible, with the support of hundreds of volunteers from around the world, goes a long way towards leveling the playing field and fulfilling the mission of " providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere".
During my time at Khan Academy, Elizabeth Slavitt hosted some highly engaging discussions on the "Purpose of Education", which is a valuable point of reflection at an organization so dedicated to maximizing global exposure to educational content. Wanting to look beyond the oft-cited economic advantages of education (e.g., a skilled workforce boosting the GDP), we explored more fundamental reasons why we as a global society should value universal education. One idea put forward was of education's role in a democracy being to create "good citizens" — not "good" in the sense of "well-behaved", but rather in terms of having the ability to critically engage in the society's decision-making processes, and stand up for themselves effectively when their rights are under threat. More generally, I believe the process of engaging in intensive learning itself, irrespective of the content learned, can provide important opportunities for the realization that our minds are not static objects, but are malleable, and with them, our world too may be malleable, and we can change it for the better. With such a view of the purpose of education, the already critical issue of equal, universal access to educational resources becomes even more poignant.
Clearly, one of the fundamental virtues of the "online learning revolution" we're experiencing is the reduction of financial and geographic barriers to educational materials for under-privileged populations. But the tendrils of our ever-expanding global network only extend so far; despite high penetration in developed countries, only around 35% of the global population is currently classified as being "internet users", and outside of the developed world, this number falls to below 30%.
While it's possible that within, say, 10 years, internet access will have reached near global ubiquity, that shouldn't stop us from actively finding ways to work around its current limitations, to reach populations in need; waiting 10 years means letting already disadvantaged communities fall another generation behind, perpetuating the global digital divide as we move into whatever its next instantiation may be. It's important to note that the countries with the lowest rates of internet access are also the countries disadvantaged in many other ways, in particular with regards to education. For example, the student-teacher ratio in primary school is strongly anticorrelated (r=-0.73) with the percentage of internet users in a country, as shown below (and to further compound these inequalities, the internet users within a country are of course disproportionately to be found among the wealthier regions and stratas of society).
Source: Derived from the excellent World Development Indicators dataset
My hope is that we can continue pushing this trend towards the democratization of education — that this great force, once the rare privilege of an anointed few, can be made accessible to ever-broader swaths of humanity. Education, once a distinguisher, can now become an equalizer: a way for us to join together collectively, as a global society, to better ourselves and maximize our chances of solving the shared challenges we face.
We can't wait to see how and where KA Lite is going to be used, and things are already starting to happen. We've been chatting with people from Numeric in South Africa, where there are hundreds of schools in villages along the Western and Eastern Cape that have computer labs, but very limited connectivity (often a single 3G connection shared by a school of thousands), and they are very excited to start using KA Lite. Another exciting use case, and one that we would never have envisioned when we started out, is in the prison system right here in the United States. Many medium-security prisons are equipped with computer labs and classrooms, but for security reasons detainees are not permitted access to the internet. An offline version of Khan Academy will provide opportunities for personal and professional development that could aid in the important goal of rehabilitation.
If you, as an individual or as part of an organization, are connected to any communities or facilities where you think KA Lite could be of use, please let us know or leave a comment below, and we can help guide you through getting set up. And don't forget to sign up for updates on the project homepage, so we can keep you apprised when we have exciting developments!
Continue reading, if you want techie details: Part 3: Technical aspects of KA Lite
Find out more about KA Lite, and signup for updates on the project homepage!
You can also read more blog posts about this project, by my co-conspirators:
Dylan Barth: KA-Lite: Khan Academy For The Other 70%
Matt O'Rourke: KA Lite: Bringing Education To Those Who Need It Most