‘Unschooled’ Teen Rejected From India’s Top Science School Gets into MIT

An Indian teen who found it incredibly difficult to be admitted to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) was instead admitted to another prestigious school — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Teenager Malvika Raj Joshi may not have a class X or XII certificates (the exams necessary to pass secondary and senior school, respectfully) required to be admitted to India’s top institutes, but due to her computer programming smarts, MIT did not hesitate to open its doors for her.

According to Press Trust Of India, MIT gave the 17-year-old freshman from Mumbai a scholarship to pursue her Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science not because of high marks but for consistently winning international awards via the Programming Olympiad. Malvika Raj has won three consecutive medals (two silver and a bronze) at the International Olympiad of Informatics. MIT’s provision for accepting students who are medal winners at various Olympiads (Maths, Physics or Computer) allowed Malvika’s medals to land her an opening in the institute.

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Four years ago, when Malvika was in class VII at Dadar Parsee Youth Assembly School in Mumbai, her mother decided to remove her from her school.

“We are a middle class family. Malvika was doing well in school but somehow I felt that my children need to be happy. Happiness is more important than conventional knowledge,” her mother Supriya told PTI. ”I was working with an NGO that takes care of cancer patients. I would see students who are in 8th or 9th standard being affected by cancer. It affected me deeply and I decided that my daughters need to be happy.”

She further explained that arriving at the decision and actually doing it was not easy, especially in a relatively conservative society such as India:

“In India, people are still not very aware about the term ‘home schooled’ or ‘unschooled’ as it is commonly referred.”

Convincing Malvika’s father Raj, a businessman and engineer, also took a while. “My husband Raj wasn’t convinced initially as it was a risky proposition. The kids won’t have a 10th or 12th standard certificate and there was bound to be fear. I quit my NGO job and designed an academic curriculum for Malvika. I created a simulation (classroom like situation) at home. The confidence I had as a mother was that I am capable of imparting knowledge in my daughter’s.”

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Then they saw the effect on their daughter. “Suddenly I saw that my daughter was so happy. She was learning more than ever –from the time she woke up to the time she was off to sleep. Knowledge became a passion,” said the mother.

As a product of unschooling, however, Malvika has had difficulty being admitted to premiere local schools which have strict rules, including the need to pass class XII exams.

“When I started unschooling, that was 4 years back, I explored many different subjects. Programming was one of them. I found programming interesting and I used to give more time to it than to other subjects, so, I started liking it at that time,” she revealed.

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Before she got her MIT acceptance notice, she also got accepted to Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI) where she was enrolled in a Master of Science level course.

With Malvika’s successful entry in MIT, Supriya found herself being asked by a lot of parents for advice. “They are all interested in knowing how to get into MIT. I just tell them that we never aimed for her admission in MIT. I tell parents to understand what their children like.”

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