The story of Malvika Joshi: Time to Unschool Ourselves, Maybe?

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“When you take free will out of education that turns it into schooling.”– John Taylor Gatto

The news that a seventeen year old ‘unschooled’ girl, Malvika Raj Joshi, has made it to distinguished Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is making headlines all over. This Mumbai teenager doesn’t have class X or class XII certificates and was thus, rejected by various native schools including the IITs because of their stringent qualifying rules including a class XII pass.

But her computer programming talent got her a seat into the MIT. She is a three time medal winner at International Olympiad of Informatics. The institute has a provision for accepting students who are medal winners at various Olympiads (Maths, Physics or Computer) and it was her medals which awarded her a scholarship and fulfilled her dreams of pursuing research work in her favourite subject- Computer Science.

She was studying in class VII when her mother decided to pull her and her younger sister out of school. She wanted her daughters to enjoy the learning process and not pressurize themselves with marks and percentages. Working with an NGO for cancer patients, she saw the plight of children in class VIII or IX afflicted with cancer making her realize that all she wanted was her daughters to be happy. She then quit her job and developed a curriculum to impart education to her daughters.

It was during this unschooling process that Malvika explored various subjects and found  programming interesting and started studying it diligently something which patently missing in our education system.

time to unschool ourselves

Malvika’s story is yet another reminder of how flawed our education system is and has been for years. The learning process that should make us happy has become the biggest reason for strangulating our happiness. The number of student suicides has only been increasing in our country. Competitive exams like CAT and JEE have only increased our obsession with marks and degrees where your performance in a few hours holds the power to carve your whole life.

Why is it that schooling becomes synonymous with education and marks with our intelligence and capabilities? Our education system only promotes rote learning where no one knows why we are being taught what we are being taught. What’s even worse is that no one ever tries to find out. This system never lets us discover and discern our innate talents and creativity because we never really go beyond the ‘syllabus.’ Rather, it ends up magnifying our failures and weaknesses. It never lets us forget that one math test or that one exam we couldn’t ace. It never allows you to know more about the subjects that you really like. Thus, the end products are confused students who never know their true calling and end up following the ‘herds.’ The out of the box thinking is never encouraged instead the systems locks us in the box not enabling us to question things or ponder about a different school of thought.

Stories like these make us wake up from our deep slumber. But sadly, only for a while. Even the so called changes that are brought up in our system end up being only polished versions of the old, rusted methods.

Some years from now, when Malvika goes on to do something bigger, maybe becoming the CEO of a big multi-national company, we are all going to be proud and brag about the fact that she happens to be an Indian. But it shouldn’t be a moment of pride but maybe to be ashamed of ourselves on losing such great minds and to ponder over failures of our education system.

Maybe the time is now. Maybe it’s time to educate and not school ourselves. May be it’s time we go out of our syllabus and go visit some old library, explore the internet for its good uses and move beyond marks and degrees. Maybe it’s time we all unschool ourselves a little.

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