Khan Academy lessons now in Bangla, thanks to AGAMI

Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA
Any student, anywhere in the world, if s/he is unable to grasp how to isolate, for an example, the unknown variable X and derive its value in a simple linear equation of 6X—50=4 or finds it difficult to understand how the Doppler effect results from motions of the source of a sound wave relative to motions of an observer and the medium or for that matter any simple or difficult lessons on Physics or Chemistry or any other subjects that are usually taught in the classrooms of schools and colleges, can now attend a free classroom in the virtual world of the Internet. The free classroom is in the website of Khan Academy where one can browse, view and listen to more than 2700 audio-video clips to learn the basic lessons on almost all the disciplines ranging from mathematics to economics to physics to chemistry to banking and to what not. The man who has made it happen is Salman Khan. Millions of learners are visiting the Khan Academy website. Till today, 37 million 069 thousand and 577 lessons have already been delivered, all of course in American English.

The name Salman Khan must evoke an image of an Indian actor if you ever saw one of those Hindi films like 1989 movie ‘Mainey Pyar Kiya’ or the other popular films like ‘Saajan’ or ‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kiya’. But Salman Khan who created Khan Academy is not a cinema actor. He is a brilliant academic and a devout American activist. Though his name sounds Indian he is neither Indian nor Pakistani. Nor is he a Bangladeshi. He was born and raised in America. He studied in MIT and Harvard. Even Bill Gates encouraged his children to learn algebra from his website.

Bangladeshis however have reasons to feel proud of Salman Khan as he has his ancestral roots embedded in the soils of southern part of Bangladesh and the West Bengal of India; his father was born at Barisal in Bangladesh and his mother is from Kolkata in India. Salman Khan now lives in California, busy creating video lessons for his Khan Academy. Bangladeshis may feel disheartened finding that the tutorials in Khan Academy website are all in English. Of course, Salman Khan received a fund from ‘Googles’ as an award for his immense contribution in education; instead of using the award for his personal gain he decided to spend the entire fund to translate his lessons into major foreign languages for the benefit of learners around the world.

Since I wrote a piece on Khan Academy that was published in The Financial Express on December 26, 2010 under the title “Sal Khan’s Khan Academy lights the way” I have received many e-mail messages from Bangladesh earnestly asking me whether the English lessons could ever be uploaded in Bangla in the Khan Academy website. I couldn’t answer their queries readily as I was not sure whether Salman Khan had any plan to translate those lessons into Bangla.

While I was frantically trying to reach Salman Khan, I received, on January 04, 2011, a serendipitous message in my email inbox saying: “Dear Mr. Maswood: I read your article about Khan Academy in The Financial Express. I just wanted to let you know that AGAMI, a non-profit organization based in the US, has partnered with Khan Academy to make their video tutorials available in Bangla for free. You can read more about it on AGAMI’s website []”. “What a God-sent bonanza for me!” I wondered. The sender of the message was Imtiaz. I instantly visited the website and left my exuberant comment on their blog page: “I don’t have language to express my feelings of excitements for such a noble job the “AGAMI” volunteers have undertaken”.

Mr. Imtiaz Chowdhury, a Masters both in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering from The University of Texas, is a member of the Board of Directors of AGAMI; he serves AGAMI as its treasurer and is driving AGAMI’s online marketing and fundraising campaigns using different social media outlets.

Gradually I got introduced with a number of executives of AGAMI through email correspondence and over telephone. A dedicated executive of AGAMI and a pleasant personality I have ever come across Mr. Nisar Ahmed later opened for me a treasure trove of information about what AGAMI is going to do to help brighten up the future of Bangladesh. Nisar Ahmed told: “The Khan Academy video tutorials in Bangla will help stimulate interests among Bangladeshi learners to know the basics of different subjects in a classroom environment. The tutorials are so designed that the students will be encouraged to solve the exercises in their school texts on their own. The video tutorials are very much unlike the ‘easy note books’ available in the market that rather kills the natural curiosity and blocks the inherent innovative faculties of the learners. Khan Academy tutorials are only animated explanations of the texts, theorems and basics of different disciplines with a few pertinent examples, not like the ready solutions of hundreds of exercise some students feel tempted to blindly commit to their memory by rote and release the same on their exam scripts”.

When you are very far away from your home you find your love for your motherland getting more and more accentuated. When you are well off and when you are home, you don’t really feel for the underprivileged as much as you do when you are far away from your homeland. Expatriate Bangladeshis, as I could observe, working and living in USA and for that matter in any foreign land, compared to their compatriots living in Bangladesh, are more eager to alleviate sufferings of the helpless and the underprivileged living their pitiable life back home.

Back in the year 1988 Babu S. Rahman, then a young boy aged only 22, was a graduate student in The University of California at Berkeley. He was awed to see in television the scenes of a devastating flood, the worst flood in the history of Bangladesh that inundated its 50 per cent land, killing 3000 people and destroying properties worth US$ 1.8 billion. Babu was appalled viewing the horrific destructions and wreckages of a land his parents were born in. He became utterly desperate and cried out for help. He asked for donations from whoever he could come across. He questioned: “Why should we remain silent, merely as spectators watching the plight of the Bangladeshi victims from a safe distance while we’re living in comforts and splurging on all the luxuries in America?” He along with some of his friends and acquaintances jumped up and decided to do something for their ancestral home. The seed of AGAMI was thus sown in the mind of a young boy and AGAMI, as an action group, was thus founded in July, 2003. AGAMI is today a full-grown tree reaching out its branches to touch the underprivileged in Bangladesh.

AGAMI perhaps would never have been born if Babu’s father Dr Mizan Rahman had not moved to North America back in 1962. A brilliant Bangladeshi Canadian mathematician and an extraordinary writer of a number of biographical literatures in Bangla, Dr Mizan imbued his son Babu with humanistic values a man should have when Babu was very young living with his parents in Canada. It was Dr Mizan who instilled into Babu an unalloyed love for Bangladesh, his parental home. It was Dr Mizan who had chosen the word “AGAMI” as the name of the charity Babu later as an adult had undertaken to spearhead a campaign for philanthropy.

Dr Mizan was born and grew up at Narshingdi in Bangladesh. He studied at the Dhaka University where he worked as a lecturer from 1958 till 1962. After having his PhD with a thesis of “Kinetic theory of Plasma using singular integral equation techniques” from the University of New Brunswick in Canada in 1965 he became a Mathematics teacher at the Carleton University in Ottawa, where at his age of 79 he is still a distinguished Professor Emeritus.

Bangladesh should feel proud of a few Bangladeshi young men, mostly IT professionals now working in USA, whose relentless efforts helped AGAMI march ahead with zeal to promote basic education in Bangladesh. The main aim of AGAMI, a US-registered non-profit charity, is to provide educational materials, access to education and support, with an end goal of making villages in Bangladesh self-sufficient in providing education to the rural children, especially the underprivileged ones. Besides providing education AGAMI has an eye on developing public health and economic independence in rural Bangladesh. AGAMI believes the cycle of ignorance, corruption, poverty and despair can be broken with education, being the greatest enabler of all. AGAMI is working to give Bangladesh a future through its children.

AGAMI is run fully by dedicated volunteers in USA and Bangladesh. Its expenses are met by the revenues received from fundraising tickets, Board members’ fees, corporate sponsorships and software license donations. AGAMI is especially indebted for assistances it is receiving from Salesforce and Google. AGAMI’s 87 per cent revenues are garnered from individual donors and the rest 13 per cent comes from different corporations.

Salman Khan of Khan Academy, who received from Googles a personal award of $2.0 million and decided to spend the awarded fund in translating all his video tutorials into major languages, found AGAMI as the best forum to undertake a project of translating the lessons into Bangla. Khan Academy and AGAMI have already been partnered for the Bangla Video Project whereby the English audio portions of the tutorials would be seamlessly replaced by Bangla audio clips, keeping the original segments intact. AGAMI has been engaging volunteers in USA and Bangladesh who will assist in translating, editing and integrating the Bangla audios with the video lessons of the tutorials already there in the Khan Academy website.

AGAMI has already started the job of translating and aligning the ‘audio clips’ with the original videos in such a way that the engaging tones in the original videos are not diluted. AGAMI has a target to complete translating, editing and uploading at least 1000 lessons in Bangla by the next year. Bangladeshi learners very soon will start watching those Khan Academy video tutorials in its original formats, but dubbed in Bangla. A new horizon is being opened up for the students in Bangladesh who can’t afford private tutorials for better understanding their classroom lessons. Congratulations to Khan Academy! Congratulations to AGAMI!

Why not AGAMI should be adjudged by Khan Academy as the best institution to undertake such a job of translating their video lessons when this charity is chaired by no less than a person like Dr. Babu S. Rahman, a highly acclaimed IT professional, a man who is doggedly determined to help Bangladeshis see their brighter future, a son of Dr Mizan Rahman, an illustrious father?

Dr Babu Rahman of AGAMI, exactly like Salman Khan of Khan Academy, was born and raised in North America. Babu is President of AGAMI Board of Directors which is adorned by other American IT professionals—most of them are of Bangladesh origin—who are no less dedicated than Babu Rahman: Dr. Abu S Mahmudul Hassan, Vice President, Dr. Sabir Majumder, Member and Secretary, Farzana Sultana, Member and Director of Fundraising and Imtiaz Chowdhury, Member and Treasurer of AGAMI Board of Directors.

Babu Rahman can’t speak in Bangla; but as I was conversing with him over telephone I was simply amazed by his tone of enthusiasm, his passionate desire to do something concrete for Bangla-speaking children and his immutable sense of solidarity with Bangladesh where his parents were born and raised. This is what is called ‘love for motherland’!

Frankly speaking, Babu Rahman seemed to me just another Salman Khan of Khan Academy. Babu completed a BSME in 1987 from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He then completed an MSME (Master of Science, Mechanical Eng) in 1989 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1992, specializing in Vibration Analysis in Electric Motors. Both degrees were conferred by The University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a Director at High Tide Associates, a Silicon Valley-based company focusing on human-powered bike-driven electric generators. With 20 years of engineering and executive experience in reputed IT firms, including ‘Apple’, Babu is also working on a project that is focused on bringing energy to 1.6 billion people without power in the developing world. He devotes much of his spare time volunteering for AGAMI, which has been his passion since the devastating flood hit Bangladesh in 1988.

The Broad Vision of AGAMI: All children in Bangladesh will get equal opportunity for a quality education. The Broad Mission of AGAMI: To create lasting socio-economic change in Bangladesh with education for the underprivileged, development of skills of the adults, improvement of public health and facilitating economic initiatives for rural families. Pioneers of AGAMI: A few American IT professionals who are presently rooted in the Silicon Valley at California in America and whose ancestral roots are in Bangladesh.

AGAMI has already partnered with JMTF, a local NGO in Bangladesh, to bring education and basic health care in Khulna. AGAMI in partnership with OML (One Million Lights) has undertaken a programme titled “Let there be light” with a view to distributing solar-powered lights to meritorious students in Bangladesh. AGAMI has partnered with a US-based organization to distribute Khan Academy videos to off-grid locations in Bangladesh where students do not have internet access. Partnership between AGAMI and a very large American company has been finalised to provide remote learning and distribute academic information among Bangladeshi learners in remote areas. AGAMI is on its way to form partnership with a large international NGO to improve quality of teachers, health and vocations mainly in rural areas in Bangladesh.

Babu of AGAMI has other many ideas up his sleeve—mainly to help Bangladesh brighten up!

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