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Last spring, with schools closing to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, educational applications became a lifesaver.

As parents, teachers, and students adapted to the virtual classroom, many relied on applications and techniques to help bridge learning gaps.

Among them was the Khan Popular Academy, started by Sal Khan in 2005 to provide videos and tools to help students learn math, science and more.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Khan, the company’s CEO, said he first learned about the closure of schools due to the pandemic in February after receiving letters from South Korea to teachers using Khan Academy. In the following months, schools began to close in the US in favor of virtual learning.

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“When it started to become clear that school closures could happen, we started making a war room around, ‘OK, we need to provide more support for teachers, for parents,'” Khan said. “We have to put in place more structures on how you can use not just Khan Academy, but other resources to structure a day that can align with home schooling or quarantine schooling or whatever you want to call it.”

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Khan said that before COVID-19, the site averaged 30 million minutes of school teaching. At the peak of spring, Khan Academy was averaging 90 million teaching minutes.

Last week, the Amgen Foundation awarded Khan Academy a $ 3 million grant to support initiatives including virtual biology lessons and a partnership with LabXchange, an online science learning platform.

USA TODAY spoke with Khan about what to expect this fall, and how parents can cope.

Q: Where do you see apps like Khan Academy that fit the changing school curriculum?

Khan:We call ourselves a strategic addition. It is a kind of vague term. What does it mean?

Pre-COVID, you have this notion of a basic program. When you and I were going to school, this tended to be some sort of combination of a textbook, a teacher’s handbook, and perhaps some lecture notes or guides for the teacher or district developed. Now, there are some deeper curricula that have day-to-day lessons through which teachers can work.

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Regardless of the curricula you look at, whether they are text-based or some of the more modern ones, they are good at describing daily lesson plans. Where it is lacking – and this is pre-COVID – are not they good enough to provide enough internships for students, especially internships when they receive immediate feedback. They do not necessarily provide support when teachers can know in real time what students do, what they know, what they do not know.

And the traditional core curricula are really weak in how you address the problem every student has gaps coming into the school year. You are giving them a synchronous lesson every day.

What if the children are not ready for that lesson, or what if some children are willing to move on? How does it differentiate and personalize it? And so that practice, that feedback, monitoring teacher progress and that personalization, mastery learning, those were the areas where Khan Academy saw its role in the classroom, where we could add value as a strategic addition.

Now get into a COVID world, something really interesting is happening because that traditional curriculum for which it was anchored will no longer work the same way anymore. Most traditional curricula are designed to have – just imagine a math class, five 55-minute sessions a week and then you will do the problem solving yourself. Now, at best, you will get two to three Zoom sessions a week, much more has to happen remotely, distance learning, using some form of online tool.

We see ourselves continuing to be the strategic supplement in that practice, feedback, space for monitoring teachers’ progress and personalization, but we are imagining – and this is what we saw in the spring – is that people will become so weak heavier because you can not get as much synchronous time together in this world. It’s kind of the same idea, but the value, I think, these online tools offer are much more important now.

Q: What are some new features or offers you hope to introduce this fall?

Khan: It is easy to prepare for class level courses. Not only is it a way to find out if the kids are ready, but it is also a way to help them prepare and get ready for grade level, or even if you move to the grade level at the same time for them to complete any gaps that may have accumulated even pre-COVID, but especially during the COVID period.

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Furthermore, we are creating weekly lesson plans and schedules just to give teachers and parents a perspective on what a basic distance learning foundation might look like. The reality is that most districts are simply leaving the room with epidemiologists to figure out what is even physically possible, and they have not really had the opportunity to think about what the curriculum looks like in this world. How do we learn, what are our learning goals, how do we actually do them?

So we have a role, even beyond whatever tools we offer, to give people a clear perspective on what that lesson might look like that way.

We worked with McKinsey & Company – we will publish it in two weeks – a report that looked at what were the best practices from spring during distance learning, what did not work and moving forward, what are the best practices, what is the game book, how can a district or a school assess their willingness to learn hybrid or distance learning. We will also continue to provide much more support and training for teachers and parents to help as many people as possible during this period.

Q: What advice do you have for parents helping their children navigate a virtual schooling experience?

Khan:My advice is, first, take a deep breath. Nor do you impose on yourself a hope that you will have to repeat the whole school. This is simply not practical. No one is getting this. So even if you are looking at your relatives and it looks like they are having an amazing hybrid experience, it is certainly not as amazing as you might think.

But I would say the next thing is, focus on those basics. There are two scenarios. It is the scenario where the school is supporting the family quite well. The main role of the parent is to stay engaged with what the school is telling you, make sure you create habits and patterns with your child, look at the calendar together, so the child shows up and is engaged in whatever activity the faculty wants them to do.

There is another scenario – and, unfortunately, I think this can be quite common – is where families are not getting the support they need and they have to do it themselves. This is where I would say focus on the basics. Depending on the child’s age, math, reading and writing, if they can take at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, they will not go towards atrophy and will progress.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @ brettmolina23.

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