This multi-million dollar partnership will look at hiring Indian teachers and teach in Indian languages through videos that are mapped to the Indian education system, especially NCERT textbooks.

One of the world’s largest open-access online educators, Khan Academy, announced a five-year, not-for-profit partnership with the Ratan Tata-led Tata Trusts to enable free online education for the Indian market. “We want to multiply literacy many times over,” said Mr. Tata on Sunday morning while announcing the alliance. “The Khan Academy partnership will enable us to deliver education free of cost to anyone and at any time and any place, with just the help of a connected device.”

The US-based Salman Khan, who founded the Khan Academy in 2006 after a few years of teaching his cousin Nadia some concepts in mathematics, said this multi-million dollar partnership will look at hiring Indian teachers and teach in Indian languages through videos that are mapped to the Indian education system, especially NCERT textbooks. It has already launched a Hindi portal recently.

Mr. Khan said that both Tata Trusts and his academy recognise that technology penetration is a challenge in India, but with the proliferation of low-cost web-enabled devices, that could be overcome soon. “We are not challenging the traditional means of classroom education, but we do want to catalyse new classrooms for the 21st century,” Mr Khan said. “The Prussian method of schooling has been prevalent since the 19th century. We have to adapt to new methodologies for the 21st century.”

Mr. Tata said that the sheer professional opportunity available for Indian learners via an online model could change the way we look at education. “Even at Tata Group, where we spend close to five per cent of our earnings on philanthropy, we have realised that the traditional methods of giving for education such as scholarships and funding for overseas education need to change.” He said the Khan Academy will enhance the reach of the Tata Trusts to millions of students, giving it the platform needed to scale up.

The five-year partnership will be divided into two phases, according to a joint media release by the Tata Trusts and the Khan Academy. The first two years will focus on “designing a robust set of educational resources tuned to the needs of middle- and low-income students in urban environments”. The next phase will see diversification into other content areas, including offering classes in regional languages such as Marathi, Tamil and Bangla.

Mr. Khan told The Hindu the aim of the Academy is not to compete with traditional forms of classroom education, but look at complementing them. “If Isaac Newton or Nehru or Gandhi had YouTube, we could be learning from them,” he said. “So we need to create content that has not date value or geographical boundaries. A person who is good at mathematics in India will also be good at mathematics in Texas… we need to create content that is good for both online and offline access and on low-cost devices.”

Mr. Khan said his organisation has already begun subtitling English online classes into some languages, but it would need teachers speaking Indian languages or even speaking English with an Indian accent to go closer to the learner. “We have already launched a Hindi portal, and we will look to expand into other Indian languages soon.

There are three core focus areas, a spokesperson for the partnership said. “We are looking product and software development, content localization and creation, and adoption and awareness.”

Mr .Tata said that the only thing that could wrong with this project is that there will be fewer students than expected. “We are confident that free online access will create the kind of base needed to bring in students. We are not looking at failure.”

Mr. Khan, who has three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard University, said he was looking at a more fulfilling vocation than being a hedge fund manager (he worked at Connective Capital Management until he quit in 2009). “The difference between a typical boardroom meeting versus ours is that in the former, people ask when do you turn a profit, while in our meetings we ask how many million students have we managed to get.”

The Khan Academy has received global funding support from such organizations as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, The Broad Foundation, the Skoll Foundation and the O’Sullivan Foundation before its India foray with Tata Trusts.