Self-directed Learning | Breaking Boundaries: University is Not the Only Path to Success

For many, dropping out wastes time and tuition. For some, it's pursuing higher learning and ideals. These individuals defy the conventional path equating success with university education. This article explores their journeys and alternative education's value.

Self-directed Learning | Breaking Boundaries: University is Not the Only Path to Success

Two years ago, I watched a program that explored social issues, one episode of which was titled "Is Quitting University Capricious?" In Hong Kong, more than a thousand university students choose to drop out each year, and this number is increasing annually. For many people, dropping out means wasting time and tuition fees. However, many students who have dropped out and later re-taken diploma exams to re-enter university claim that they made this choice to pursue higher degrees and get closer to their ideals. To others, such actions may seem capricious, but for them, it is perseverance. So, how do they navigate this misunderstood journey?

As a parent who advocates for alternative education, I don't find it surprising or difficult to understand the actions of students who drop out of university and then re-enter for the sake of their ideals and goals. In fact, I admire their courageous spirit of self-determination and their hardworking attitude towards realizing their dreams and interests. Even when faced with the misunderstanding of family and friends, they still persist. However, these individuals are still in the minority, as the majority of people are unwilling to take such risks.

What I want to discuss, however, is that these few young people who drop out are also constrained by the so-called "conventional" life path, which believes that success can only come from attending university. Of course, pursuing higher education is not a mistake, but it is also not absolutely necessary.

Embracing Individual Diversity: Valuing Alternative Education

Education should be diverse, as humans themselves are diverse. We cannot limit a person's growth and success to the formal education system spanning kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and university. In September 2021, a global headline was SpaceX's "Inspiration4" civilian space mission. Among the four civilian astronauts, one was named Jared Isaacman, who, at only 40 years old, is already a successful entrepreneur with a net worth of $2.2 billion.

Posing for a photo before stepping into the F-16 Fighting Falcon

Isaacman is the youngest in his family. At the age of 15, he thought it was unreasonable for schools to require students to ask teachers for permission to use the restroom, as he was no longer a child. As a result, he expressed his thoughts to his mother and decided to drop out of high school. After leaving school, Isaacman engaged in self-study, dedicating two years to researching computer programming in his basement. He later founded a company called Shift4 Payments, which successfully went public on the New York Stock Exchange in June 2020.

Not only was Isaacman passionate about computer programming after dropping out of school, but he also developed a keen interest in aviation. At the age of 17, he began learning to fly planes. Eventually, he became an accomplished fighter jet pilot. In 2009, Isaacman set an astonishing world record: he flew a fighter jet around the world in the longest time, taking a total of 61 hours, 51 minutes, and 15 seconds.

There is no absolute distinction in methods of education; it is relative. So-called alternative education is only relative to the traditional formal education system. Alternative education is also a part of educational methods, and we should not treat it as an anomaly.

Michell, the founder of Sudbury Education in Hong Kong, said: "People will wholeheartedly invest in meaningful things and remember those they care about. It is because they experience the sense of meaning that they can feel genuine satisfaction and happiness. When children do not find meaning in something, they will naturally ask 'why.' Children are not being mischievous or ignorant; they do this because they are in touch with their inner selves, seeking a meaningful life." Excerpt from "Self-directed Learning: Making All Learning Meaningful"

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This article has been translated by ChatGPT-4. The original text was in Chinese.

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