Every photographer has to start somewhere, and that usually starts in some sort of academic situation. A good part of photography education is learning how to not just use the camera but also the science behind the optics system; even a digital camera requires a sound understanding of the physics of light. There should also be some instruction in old-school techniques; knowing how to develop film allows for the development of some techniques that apply well to digital photography.
The classes should also teach the basics of lighting and how to shift the settings of the camera so as to obtain the best possible pictures in any setting. While self-education is fine, it can be a limiting factor for some students; a teacher can show a student a lot more than even an online video can and give a greater overall education.