“Self education will make you a fortune” – my TEDxYouth speech

Note: TEDSummit 2016 took place last week. To honour the event, I thought I’d post the transcript of a talk I gave at a local TEDxYouth event. Enjoy!

The turn of the millennium saw a drastic change in education systems around the world. Schools during the industrial revolution were modelled after the factories of that same era. Uniformity and obedience were valued more than creativity and independent thinking. Students were told to memorise their textbooks and answer boring questions on it. They were also told not to question the system and to keep on doing what was already being done; in other words, to not be curious.

But all of that has changed now. The information age rewards people’s inventiveness and initiative. Schools have taken greater care to encourage creativity and curiosity in the classrooms. True to its name, the information age is all about knowledge and learning. That’s exactly what we’re doing at this event after all. So why do humans take pleasure in learning? It is because we are naturally curious beings. It is through curiosity, a desire to find out something, that life promotes itself, keeps itself alive, reproduces itself, and gathers resources more effectively. A lack of curiosity can lead to a lack of life. Johannes Kepler said it best about human curiosity to know about the skies but his sentiments apply to our desire to learn about all other aspects of the universe too:

“We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens….The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.”

And there is one focus of my talk today. Something all of you love, I’m sure. And it is this: the internet. More than just being an outlet for mindless media consumption, the internet actually allows anyone to pursue their curiosity and learn more about any aspect of the world.

Anywhere. Anyone. It is one of the most liberating and useful inventions created by human beings. Going forward, it will have the greatest impact on education: both in schools and privately through the self education of individuals.

Before I continue, I’d like to talk about some of my own online learning adventures. I taught myself programming through free online resources. Through online courses, I befriended other people from around the world who were learning the same things I was. [some outdated information about my life I had to retract]

Now on to current events. Just last month, I completed a course on classical mechanics at MIT opencourseware. Now I’m also doing a course on single variable Calculus. Why? Because robots. To make artificially intelligent computers, you need to learn a lot of maths. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. If you’re curious, there’s a course on artificial intelligence available online. So the question is how did I start my string of adventures with online learning?

A few years ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed clearly bored out of my mind and looking for something to do. I saw a very curious link to a webpage for a MOOC (meaning a Massive Open Online Course) that promised an understanding of programming in the most fun way possible. And at that time, that was mind-boggling. I didn’t need to be enrolled anywhere. I didn’t need to buy anything. I could start anytime and anywhere I wanted. It was like getting a letter from Hogwarts.

A whole new world had opened up. I could learn to create video games. I could learn more advanced mathematics. I could learn about all these cool new subjects like nanophysics, graphic design and artificial intelligence right from the comfort of my home.

I didn’t need to wait till I was older or in university to create and learn cool things. And when I talk about MOOCs, I’d like to stress that they are far more than just a series of educational videos. Most online courses have short bite-sized instructional videos as well as quizzes and assignments and most importantly discussion forums with other students to provide a complete learning experience for the users.

From computer science courses offered by Harvard to the hottest offerings at MIT, you have access to the best instructors in the world and the most useful and comprehensive course material. So why wait? Why not start satisfying your curiosity and start changing the world now? Why wait till you’re all grown-up to learn the things you need to help advance your goals?

So if you’re wondering how you’ll make time for online learning when you’ve got school, a social life and everything else to do. And my number one tip is, surprisingly, that you can quit anytime. A majority of online course takers quit during the course. And that’s not a bad thing. It allows students to learn only the things they consider most useful and to skip the rest. So take that chance. Life is too short to waste doing something boring and impractical. If the course material is both fun and useful, you’ll make time for it. If you want to learn faster and better, there’s even a course on Learning How To Learn available online. In fact, there’s probably a free online course for any topic you can imagine.

I keep a personal blog about online learning and learning in general. And today I hope to introduce other people to this amazing world of mine. I want to work with other high school students on some interesting new courses. I promise you that it will be fun. Just imagine: you’ll have all the benefits of learning without all the pressure.

So there you have it! To change the world, you need to be good at what you do. And to be good at it, you need to start learning early. Bill Gates started programming when he was 13 and sold his first software when he was 17. Albert Einstein had been thinking about relativity since he was 16. And today you have access to even more information than they ever did. You have the collective human knowledge at your fingertips ready for you to apply to real world problems. So go ahead and start learning, start thinking differently about what you’re learning and then apply it in a way no one has done before. The world won’t wait for you to be educated. You have to educate yourself and get ahead through self education. Jim Rohn said that “Formal education will make you a living, but self education will make you a fortune”. Seek that fortune. Embrace your curious side. Become the wizard you’ve always wanted to be. Keep learning and the world will be yours.

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