“No student ever attains very eminent success by simply doing what is required of him: it is the amount and excellence of what is over and above the required that determines the greatness of ultimate distinction.”- Charles Kendall Adams

Time and again, the flaws of the education system in India have been highlighted. The percentage of marks scored are given more importance than the competence of the student. Without passing malvika-mitschool-leaving examinations, one cannot imagine getting admission to a college. Moreover getting into one of the prestigious IIT’s requires cracking the IIT-JEE. The case of seventeen-year-old Malvika Raj Joshi is the perfect example of this anomaly. This Mumbai girl did not attend a school like regular kids but instead was homeschooled. Well, you know how difficult it is to get admissions in a country obsessed with marks?

The story of Mumbai’s Malvika Raj Joshi, who has shown that “merit” has more weight than “marks”, is about self-belief and a mother’s conviction to break stereotypes.Malvika doesn’t have a Class X or XII certificate but has made it to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), thanks to her computer programming talent.

She has got a scholarship from MIT and she is pursuing a bachelor of science degree, after getting a seat for being a three-time medal winner (two silver and a bronze) at International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI)or commonly known as Programming Olympiad. The MIT accepts students who are medal winners at various Olympiads (Maths, Physics or Computers) and it was Malvika’s medals that ensured that she could fulfill her aspirations of pursuing research work in her favourite subject – Computer Science.

“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 says in an email interaction from Boston.

Malvika could not imagine getting admission in elite Indian institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), where one needs to clear the Class XII board exams. The only institute that allowed her to enroll was Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI) where she got admission to an MSc level course as her knowledge was at par with BSc standard.

“There is absolutely no question that Malvika’s admission to MIT is based on her superlative achievements at IOI. It is a credit to MIT’s flexibility that they can offer admission to a student who demonstrates excellent intellectual potential despite having no formal high school credentials,” CMI’s Madhavan Mukund says.

Malvika’s fascinating story started four years ago when her mother Supriya took an unbelievably tough decision. She was in Class VII at Dadar Parsee Youth Assembly School in Mumbai and doing exceedingly well in academics when her mother decided to pull her out of school. “I was working with an NGO that takes care of cancer patients. I would see students who are in VIII or IX standard being affected by cancer. It affected me deeply and I decided that my daughters need to be healthy are more important than anything else” said Supriya.

The decision no way was an easy one. “In India, people are still not very aware of the term ‘homeschooled’ or ‘unschooled’ as it is commonly referred.” It also took some time to convince Malvika’s father, an engineer who runs his own business. 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 to my daughter. “For three consecutive years, she was among the top four students who represented India at the Programming Olympiad. Madhavan, who prepared Malvika for all three Olympiads, spoke about her brilliance.

When Supriya was asked if more parents want to know about her daughter, she says, “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 find out which subject their children like to study, and then give them the freedom to pursue their passion.”