YES Prep Public Schools

The Pandemic and its impact on education

On September 10, the YES Prep Advisory Council hosted a conversation with Sal Khan, the Founder and CEO of Khan Academy, a non-profit organization and free online educational platform. Facilitated by Jamie Downs, YES Prep Southside principal, virtual attendees had an opportunity to hear how Khan believes the education world has and will be impacted due to the pandemic.

Silver linings in response to the pandemic

In light of the pandemic, Downs asked Khan what, if any, silver linings he sees coming out of our response to the pandemic. Khan stated that one of the not so silver linings is the fact that too many children don’t have access to technology. And of those that are connected, 10-20% of these students are disengaged. “I think we will be dealing with the consequences of that for years.”

As the founder of an online educational platform, Khan mentioned that if he had to choose between in-person learning with great teachers versus the best technology has to offer in education, he would choose the former. What the pandemic has brought to light is how internet access and access to technology is a basic need. Plus, we have a whole generation of parents engaged in their children’s education now more than ever.

While it may not feel like a silver lining, the pandemic, Khan said, has thrown educators in the deep end of the pool about rethinking everything. With learning having moved to the virtual space, this gives teachers the opportunity to experiment, and fail…fail forward. “I think people will judge harshly if they are NOT experimenting or NOT trying new things right now.” Khan added that he, along with others, have been advocating that learning should not be bound by time or space. Personalization is important and children should have an opportunity to work on their educational gaps.

As for long term, “it would be nice if there were some nice systemic rethinking of things.”

The challenges being faced with online learning

Khan shared that he has seen a lot of distance learning where people are transplanting what was already happening in the classroom to Zoom, and using Khan Academy for student practice. While this is a good start, he mentions we have to be careful with kids getting overloaded. Teachers are feeling overwhelmed, as are families. But, “maybe less is more right now.” Educators might feel they need permission to teach three or four core classes as opposed to six. While school schedules are complex, right now we have the opportunity for innovation.

“The real priority right now is human to human connection. The irony of distance learning is that it is for many kids the main connection to a community outside of their direct family. Educators right now feel a lot of pressure to cover the standards, have perfect lesson plans but right now I personally believe engagement is everything and the way to engage them is to be available to them as a human being. One way of being able to offer that could be having smaller groups, maybe more frequent groups. These are the type of things that I think are worth trying.”

What needs to look different when students go back to school, in person

Khan reflected on how in the past kids would do their homework in a textbook, but you wouldn’t get any feedback on what you were doing, you may not have any support while you were doing it, the student or teacher wouldn’t know if you did it right or wrong or how long it was taking you. Khan stated that now, “we can provide all that data to teachers and allow students to have the mechanisms to fill in the gaps. We have this new generation of educators that is comfortable with technology, and have tools like Khan Academy that can be used for daily practices.” By moving away from synchronicity, classes can be more personalized instead of everyone covering the same material at the same time.

Another area that needs to be reevaluated, classroom engagement. “A video conference is forcing the issue and we know that kids are disengaged or just don’t show up. Kids are very creative and can appear to be engaged, but the reality is that they were doing that in the physical classroom as well.” Khan said that there needs to be more interaction. Interaction between the students, letting them help each other and feel more connected. “The nirvana is controlled chaos. Kids can do a lot at their own time and pace, even in the classroom using online tools, but it’s not a replacement of human experience, it is to unlock it.”


Khan reflected that we have the opportunity to give students more responsibilities, more agency over themselves. “It is scary as adults to do it because at first kids fail because they are not used to that. As adults we have to resist the temptation to hand-hold sometimes.” High school is a transition period, for example, Khan said, and during this time you are a young adult going out to the real world. Going to college and looking for jobs afterwards -- there’s no one there to hold your hand. The pandemic has forced us into this new environment where students have to be more independent. “It’s like when you are teaching someone to ride a bike. You keep your hands close but you don’t hold them. They may wobble several times but then they get the hang of it.”

Interested in learning more about what YES Prep is doing to change the face of education? Read here about our YES Prep Reignited initiative for in-person and online student learning.