Sal Khan, founder and CEO at Khan Academy
Sal Khan, founder and CEO at Khan Academy. Photo: Khan Academy/Courtesy.

COVID-19 is a crucial test for e-learning; with teachers and broadband Internet, a revolution may rise

On a panel at Brazil Silicon Valley, Jorge Paulo Lemann and Sal Khan spoke about how forced isolation is accelerating the adoption of online tools, and what is the secret of those that are, in fact, thriving: teachers

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According to a report by 36 international agencies and entities, including UNESCO and the World Bank, released on Wednesday, about 1.6 billion students were affected by the closure of schools in 192 countries due to COVID-19 . Many of them are having to use online learning tools for the first time and deal with structural difficulties such as the lack of access to broadband Internet and computers.

Despite these difficulties, experts say that the moment of accelerated adoption due to the pandemic is a crucial test for the tools available. Those designed with and for teachers tend to thrive even in the most difficult environments, and after the pandemic has passed.

READ ALSO: What will the edtech sector in Brazil look like after the pandemic?

It was against this background that the Brazilian entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist Jorge Paulo Lemann spoke with Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, in the second panel of Brazil at Silicon Valley (BSV), a conference idealized by Brazilian students from Stanford and Berkeley universities and that went digital this year due to the pandemic.

This year’s second panel at Brazil at Silicon Valley took place on Wednesday (13) and was broadcast on the event’s channel, this digital year, on YouTube.

Khan Academy is an NGO that was born in Silicon Valley in 2005, and that today, sponsored by entities like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has its tools used by 18 million students, from 190 countries, every month, and more than 100 million registered. In Brazil, Khan Academy has 4 million registered users. Along with India, the Latin American country is today one of the platform’s international highlights.

When it comes to the Brazilian public education, which serves 86% of the 45 million students of the country, the NGO works in partnership with 49 State Education Departments in the country, serving 391 schools and 2,600 registered teachers.

With the pandemic, the NGO saw the traffic to its platform soar. The number of parent registrations alone grew 20 times over the period prior to COVID-19. “We realized that everything that we had been working on for eight, nine years, it’s suitable for this moment,” said Khan.

This was only possible because the NGO’s classes and tools were made in a teacher-centered way. “Online is not a substitute for offline. If I had to choose between an amazing tool or an amazing teacher, I would choose the last one. But this doesn’t have to happen if you have a tool at the teacher’s service,” he points out.

Sal’s interest in education began while he was an undergraduate at MIT. While there, he developed math software for children with ADHD and tutored fourth- and seventh-grade public school students in Boston, Massachusetts. Over time, parallel activity became the main activity, and, resisting offers from investors, Sal created Khan Academy as an NGO.

I wanted something that could survive for generations. The companies are generally not the same after two generations. What institutions are capable of doing this? Museums, universities are. So, I made the decision (of building an NGO)

Sal Khan, Founder and ceo at Khan Academy.

Khan explained that it was Lemann’s organization, the Lemann Foundation, that proactively suggested that the NGO come to Brazil, still in 2014, and that even in adverse scenarios like the Brazilian one, he believes that after the crisis there may be a balance between face-to-face and online education.

For him, what can be really game-changing, especially in emerging countries like Brazil, is the broad access to broadband Internet.

He stressed that with this accelerated adoption of the tools, what everyone is realizing is that the teacher is as important in online teaching as offline. And this is true not only for a non-profit organization like Khan Academy but for edtechs and social businesses in this segment.

READ ALSO: Brazilian startups raised $144M in April

A new phase for edtechs

Just before the panel with Lemann and Khan, LABS spoke with Iona Szkurnik, chairman of the Board of Brazil at Silicon Valley (BSV) and a specialist in technology and education who, for at least seven years, has been a bridge between investors and entrepreneurs of Brazil and Silicon Valley. She explained that, in fact, the edtechs that are growing now have a different profile than those of the beginning of startups in this segment.

“The early years of edtechs, between 2012 and 2017, showed that they were not showing satisfactory results. The tools emerged from the heads of the developers or based on the students. When they arrived at the market fit (degree to which a product satisfies a strong demand of the market), had structural failures, were unfriendly or took too long to be implemented. The tools that are growing now have a different profile, the teacher is at the center of everything “, explained Iona.

READ ALSO: Due to COVID-19, demand for mental health startups services is skyrocketing in Latin America

According to the ABStartups 2020 mapping, Brazil has 449 active edtechs, against 364 in 2018. Of these, 70.6% are in the basic education segment. But some are also growing, betting on higher education. This is the case of Descomplica, an edtech that entered the higher education market in 2019, with postgraduate courses. Earlier this year, Faculdade Descomplica was accredited with a maximum score from the Brazillian Ministry of Education.

In April, the CEO of Faculdade Descomplica, Daniel Pedrino, spoke with LABS about how the pandemic can change perceptions about digital education in Brazil and the edtech’s bold goal of being the largest digital graduate in the country in 2021.

In addition to the teacher-centered development and innovation, Iona also says that this new phase of edtechs has one more characteristic: the M&A as a natural process for talent and tools acquisition. “In the first phase it was very common to think about the internal development of the tools. Today, entrepreneurs already realize that it is easier to incorporate a tool and bring it into their umbrella”, she stresses.