Rejected by IIT, 17-year-old Mumbai Girl heads to MIT

Meet the 17-year-old 'drop out' headed to MIT

Meet the 17-year-old 'drop out' headed to MIT
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Malvika Raj Joshi does not have a traditional Class X or XII certificate, but that has not stopped her from making it to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the premier educational institutions of the world. It is her talent in computer programming that has propelled her to such exalted heights. She is a classic example of the fact that in education, class is always more critical than mere statistical brilliance embodied by marks.

It also needs to be mentioned, in this regard, that her success has been possible owing to a couple of factors – her immense self-belief and her mother’s will to break the stereotypical conventions being followed in the country until now.

Scholarship from MIT

The teenager from Mumbai has twice landed a silver medal, along with a bronze, at Programming Olympiad, known formally as International Olympiad of Informatics. Thanks to such stupendous achievements, MIT has deemed it fit to provide her a scholarship that has enabled her to take up a Bachelor of Science programme at the prestigious institute.

This opportunity is in keeping with MIT’s policy of recruiting students who win medals at different kinds of Olympiads, in subjects such as mathematics, computer, physics, and more. Malvika would be able to carry on research in computer science — that happens to be her favourite subject as well — starting from September 2016.

Early days

Malvika left her school four years back when she was in seventh standard. It was then that she decided to explore various options and found programming to be an interesting option. One thing led to another and soon she was devoting much more time to programming than other subjects.

As has been said already, it was her mother Supriya Raj Joshi who took the brave decision to stop sending her to school. At that time, the former student of Dadar Parsee Youth Assembly School had been doing really well as a student. However, her mother felt that her children – including Malvika’s sister, Radha – needed to be happy.

She prioritized it much more than the conventional knowledge imparted in Indian schools. At the time she had been working for an NGO that tended to cancer patients. To her dismay, she saw several students in eighth and ninth standards afflicted with cancer. She was deeply affected by this and firmed her resolve to stop sending her kids to school.

However, in a country like India where people are not aware of concepts like ‘home-schooling’ or ‘unschooling’, this decision was a hard one. She needed to convince her husband, Raj, who is an engineer-cum-businessman by profession. He wasn’t buying the idea since Supriya’s plan meant that the kids won’t have a class X or XII certificate, and it was a frightening proposition for them. So, Supriya decided to quit her job. She soon came up with an academic curriculum to be followed at home along with classroom simulations. She was quietly confident in her abilities.

Soon, she discovered to her great joy that her children were enjoying the processes and had become passionate about learning. The results are also there for everyone to see. For three straight years, Malvika has been among the four best students to have represented her country at Programming Olympiad. In spite of not being a student in the Indian sense of things, she has achieved this wonderful feat.

Rejected by IIT

In spite of her achievements in various Olympiads, Malvika was unable to get through to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other similar institutions – regarded to be the pinnacle of the educational system in India – because of their strict rules that students need to pass Class XII ‘officially’ in order to be considered.

The only institute that admitted her was Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI). Here she was admitted into the M.Sc. course since her knowledge was already equal to the B.Sc. level of her preferred discipline.

The National Co-ordinator of Indian Computing Olympiad, Madhavan Mukund, also supports the theory that Malvika’s stupendous achievements at Programming Olympiads had helped her get through to the MIT. Incidentally, Mukund is also associated with MIT. He has lauded MIT for being flexible enough to have admitted a student, who, in spite of the absence of so-called formal education, has shown exceptional potential in her chosen field.

Not a product of the system

In his autobiography, All Round View, legendary cricketer Imran Khan had said that Pakistan produces quality cricketers in spite of the system over there. The same thing applies to Malvika as well.

Mukund, who has helped Malvika get ready for the Olympiads, has only good things to say of her. He has stated how she spent long periods at CMI in order to learn about algorithms and mathematics that played a vital part in her success at the said events. Her thirst for knowledge and capability to plan meticulously were evident in the way she learnt so many things that she had not learnt before like metrics because she was not educated formally.

Rounding up

Supriya states when people ask her how Malvika got through to MIT she tells them that she never intended that to happen. She just wanted to know what her children liked and then helped them follow their heart. The same issue has been dealt with in Three Idiots, where the stress was on learning and chasing excellence rather than merely looking for statistical success.

The problem in India is that people want to be rich and they just know a few fields, pursuing which will help them attain that lofty goal in life. The main difference between the educational system in completely-advanced countries (like the US) and statistically-advanced countries (like India) is that while the former will help one build his/her capability that counts, the latter will focus more on statistical knowledge.

Such an approach is evident in all walks of life and education is not an exception. The system of education in India also needs to change and the country needs to make the process of education an enjoyable one rather than a burden, especially in the primary stages. A child may not enjoy learning a few things. In this case, there needs to be a provision whereby children can study what they want. At the moment, knowledge is being force-fed and that is not the way it should not be.

The schools in India need to understand the basic fact that it’s the age of the Internet and all a kid needs to do is look up Google and get information on anything there is. They don’t need to learn anything and everything at school itself. The system needs to be flexible, which it is not.

Coming to higher education, as has been proved by Malvika’s case, there is a dire need for centres of excellence like the IITs to impart knowledge practically and recognize excellence. They need to do away with impractical rules like the one that prevented Malvika from becoming a student in one of their institutes.

They need to understand that there is more to education and learning than certificates and other forms of accreditation, because if they don’t change their ways then more brilliant students from India will be lost to the outdated norms. If that is not changed, we will always remain an exporter of extraordinary talent.

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