Khan Lab School is bringing back the one-room model to teach young students in Mountain View, California.
The school is a laboratory for an experimental kind of learning.
Silicon Valley, known for its technology companies, is also the birthplace of the school.
Twelve-year-old Mishal Junaid loves the Khan Lab School’s untraditional methods.
“When I wake up in the morning, I want to wake up, unlike my last school where I want to sleep in and not go to school...”
Junaid and her sister’s reactions to the school surprise their parents.
The girls’ father, Junaid Qurashi, told VOA: “Our children, they love going to school, to the point that even if they are tired or sick or have the flu,” they will not stay home from school. “To the point that we worry why kids come home so happy. Are they really learning things?”
Students ages 5 to 15 attend the experimental Khan Lab School. It has no grade levels and no homework. The students are in school from 8:30 in the morning until six o’clock at night. And, the school is open all year long, with small breaks here and there.
Nine-year-old Holly Thompson enjoys going there.
"You get to choose what you learn, and it's not just a teacher hands you a worksheet and tells you what to do. You get to set your own goals. You have a schedule. You go to different classes."
The school is the idea of Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy — famous for its educational videos. The videos are available on the internet free of charge and have millions of users around the world.
Khan said he started Khan Lab School because he thinks the current education system has problems. He hopes to create a better learning model.
“Where I see the future going is somewhat revisiting the past. There’s a lot of really good things about the one-room schoolhouse that you might have had in the rural areas that you still have today in a lot of places where you have mixed-age classrooms...”
He said this system lets the older students take responsibility and help younger students. That means the younger children get a lot of help. They get the help of the teacher and the older students.
Khan said students also learn the study material at their own speed through videos. And, they get more attention through one-on-one discussions with teachers. They also learn by doing projects.
Malika Junaid noted a change in her daughters after they began attending the school. She said that, after six months, they seemed sure of their abilities. They are now not afraid to talk to adults and other students and now they always want to help.
The school’s director, Dominic Liechti, said this way of learning better prepares students for the future. He said the duties of a teacher need to change from leading the class to being someone who guides students in their learning, and provides individual support. A teacher is also a life-long learner, he said, not just someone who gives presentations.
Leichti also said the role of students is becoming more creative.
Work in progress
Salman Khan describes his Khan Lab School as a work in progress.
“Like a R-and-D lab [research and development lab], the first time that you make the drug or the first time that you make the material,” Khan said. “It’s not scalable yet, but you need to make it the first time and say 'that’s a pretty strong material.' And then you can think about how do you make it so that it’s more affordable and more scalable.”
Dominic Liechti says the community in the Mountain View area has been open to this new method to educating students.
“Especially in Silicon Valley because that’s the culture that you can start something,” he said. “You can pioneer something, and people join that movement, and I feel that amongst my staff.”
Liechti says he has that same feeling amongst his students and members of the community.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Elizabeth Lee wrote this story for VOANews. Alice Bryant adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
flu - n. the flu, also called influenza, is common disease that is used by a virus. It causes high body temperature, weakness, and breathing problems
grade - n. a level of study that is completed by a student during one year
scalable - adj. easy to make larger or more powerful
pioneer - n. a person who helps create or develop new ideas or methods