I think education is the most critical and delicate system humanity has ever created. While a healthy education system helps us find and realize our dreams, a broken education system destroys it. Unfortunately, many of us have forgotten how important it is to keep the education system healthy and are letting it convert into a money making business. Although my academic history was officially a disaster, I still have some respect for the current system. It has taken us where we stand today after all. More importantly, we can find some really wise people in universities and academic institutes.
This is the reason I wanted to continue my academics for as long as possible and joined a recognized open University to pursue BCA+MCA (Bachelors + Masters degree in Computer Application). But I soon realized that it requires a lot of extra efforts that I cannot afford without losing the focus on my present learning path. I wasn't desperate enough to use the (unofficially accepted) hacks to pass the exams and get the degree without putting much effort. So I decided to drop out.
2005 - 2012
A scene from Crows Zero that reminds me of our school life
I studied in a government boys' school in Adra, West Bengal. Then it was a school where the physically strong or verbally abusive or mentally aggressive students ruled. Minding own business doesn't work. It was definitely not a school for the fainthearted. It took me a while to adopt, but when I did, it was really fun.
I was a consistent average performer. In India, specially in under-developed towns like ours, school education is not enough to make it through the exams. It was only for attendance. Although there were some teachers who tried their best to take responsibility and teach seriously, teaching about 50-60 gangster students at once in the limited time was not that easy for them. Our parents knew that. So to keep us in the competition, they put us into private tuition. In private tuition, we get more focused attention and the tutor gets more time to teach. So it's a much better alternative to the regular education system. However, it won't help us get the certificates we would need in order to progress with our career in the future. So my daily schedule during school life was something like - 5:00 am: go for jogging, 7am: go to tuition, 10am: go to school, 5pm: go to another tuition (or play soccer on alternate days), 7:30pm: another tuition. This was the only way to survive the exams. I never got the opportunity to do any experiment with my schedule as it was a forbidden concept. We were convinced that one failed exam is considered to be a non erasable stain in the career.
My favorite subjects were Math and Physics because I understood the concepts well although it didn't help me score great marks.
Until I reached the point where I had to make a decision of which field to choose for further studies after my high school, I never put much thought into what I wanted to become. One of the things I liked then was playing soccer. I liked the game as it made a huge positive impact in my life. It helped me gain a lot of self-confidence which I lacked earlier but it also kept me grounded. I learned a lot from this beautiful game. But I knew there's no future for me as a soccer player here because 1) A regular soccer players here hardly make enough earning to make a living, and 2) I was never that good in terms of athletic abilities as compared to others and depended solely on my ball handling techniques. Another option I had, was to get into the Army or Air Force. I even applied for it, but the admit card for the exam never reached me. Then instead of giving it another try, I choose to study Diploma in Electrical Engineering.
I had a childhood hobby of playing with wires and motors and do weird experiments with them. So I thought EE was a good choice. I had no idea of different levels of study like Under-graduate, Graduate, Post-graduate, etc. I used to stay away from these terms. Diploma is an Under-graduate program with low investment required and chances of getting a (government) job is higher (in a lower rank of course). A typical Indian parent's concept of an ideal job is a government job because it provides job security. It doesn't matter which stream or post. There's a joke that we can relate to, which goes like -
JOKE: After Sundar Pichai became the CEO of Google, journalists reached his mother to ask about how she feels, and she said "it's good and all, but had he studied with a little more dedication, he could have cracked the SSC exam (Staff Selection Commission)."
However, as I didn't really have much preference about career, I choose to go for it.
2012 - 2015
After school, I moved to Kolkata, one of the biggest cities in India, to study Electrical Engineering (although our college was situated at a remote place). I was performing surprisingly well without any private tuition. Not sure how, but I was among the top 5 performers in my stream. There I got to experience hostel life, life in a shared apartment, life in a paying guest all in three years (one year each), learning the fast paced lifestyle of "people from the city".
One of the things I learned from the people I used to play soccer with is that we don't really need a lot of things to make a healthy living. Rather, the lesser we own, the lower is the chance of getting distracted from what's really important in our life. For this reason I only own things that I can pack into a bag. Anything else I own are temporary. So I never had a personal laptop until I reached final year when it became really important for me to do research on my own for making further progress into career. So I asked my parents to buy me a laptop with average performance, enough to surf the web, watch online tutorials and use some productivity tools. I used to feel old-fashioned and outdated when watching other kids installing drivers or tweaking games on their laptops. I used a desktop before getting into college for about one year but playing games, watching movies and surfing the web was all I did with it.
We had c programming as part of our syllabus in 2nd year of Electrical Engineering. This is when I got introduced to programming. Although I enjoyed the subject and was able to pass the exams by writing simple programs like adding two numbers, I never got to clear my confusion on why would someone want to go through all the trouble when we have calculators to add numbers.
Then in final year, when I was done with my EE project work, I was searching for various career options and skills I could learn to stay ahead of the game. One of my roommates who studied Electrical Engineering in an IIT (an elite institute for gifted students in India), gave me a bunch of study materials, one of which was Bucky Robert's HTML course. I found it interesting and I had the time, so I watched it and became fan of Bucky. Another roommate who's also an old friend from my place and school, was working on his final year Computer Science project - Online Hostel Management System. I wanted to test my HTML knowledge, so I decided to help. After I wrote the HTML and CSS files, I realized that it's not enough. I need to make it dynamic. I decided to give it a try and learned Adobe Dreamweaver, a tool that automates dynamic website creation on the XAMPP stack. The tool helped me a lot with understanding the concept of database, back end and front end without writing any code. But I eventually reached a point where the tool wasn't helpful enough and so, I ended up learning PHP (from Bucky of course). I was enjoying it so much and got so involved, I ended up doing the complete project instead of just helping.
With this I discovered a whole new dimension of possibilities. While programming, I found the freedom to get as creative as I want without using any extra equipment other than a laptop and the internet. The same freedom I felt when I used to do painting or do weird scientific experiments with thrown away stuffs.
So this was my official academic life. While I'm not officially a student anymore, I will keep considering myself as one as long there are things to learn. Instead of academical institutes and Universities, Now I believe more in person-to-person mentorship. Every professional who has achieved some success in their profession, should take the responsibility of mentoring at least one candidate each year. This should be a mandate by law. Only this can help education keep up with the pace of innovation without exposing it to the "throw money, grab all" businesses. I hope someday this concept becomes a reality.