The Importance of Autodidactism in a Country with Over 190 Universities

Zeynep Akkalyoncu
Feb 19, 2015 · 5 min read

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”

Isaac Asimov

As of 2008, Turkey has a remarkable rate of literacy among the young; nearly 99.4% of male children between the ages of fifteen and twenty four is literate, as is 97.9% of their female peers. Secondary school participation of both sexes has exceeded 90% in 2012. There are currently over 190 different universities situated all over the country, 96 of which have been founded in the last ten years. According to International Wireless Symposium, more than 60% of citizens can currently access Internet easily right where they reside.

PISA 2014 Results

Yet Turkish students continue to fail horribly at PISA (short for Program for International Student Assessment, an examination that evaluates general aptitude of participants in a variety of subjects, both knowledge-wise and in terms of critical thinking). Turkey consistently scores lower than the average every time. It also has a spectacularly low reading rate (as opposed to, say, Finland), and poses a fantastic example of systematic failure to teach foreign languages. Besides, despite the enormous amount of technological improvement and increase in work force, there has been virtually no tangible progress in the last decade.

Coincidence, you say? Or an affair of political footsie?

Not entirely.

As promising a future as the former statistics project for a developing country, the reality is more poignant than pleasant. Masses of twenty-something year olds waste their intellectual capacity on mindless tasks, sitting at their office desks and waiting for incoming command. Few can actually hold a conversation about literature or even name an interest that they are truly committed to. For most, choosing a university major seems analogous to Russian roulette. I, too, got into computer science without knowing what to expect. Fortunately, I didn’t have to bite the bullet, but I ended up discovering a far more distressing truth: universities have little to offer to the youth. My seventh grader brother is bombarded with a torrent of heavily subjective historical information from a single source edited by some political marionette. His — or his friends’ — interests are of little to no concern to educators. He is forcefully dragged to school every morning at 7:46, and comes home with a frown upon his face.

Turkey’s schools (as are almost all modern educational institutions, with a few exceptions) are warehouses. Not a nurturing haven for thinkers and creators.


“Let me control the textbooks, and I will control the state.”

Adolf Hitler


Over the last few years, I have watched my brother’s immeasurable enthusiasm transform into bitter angst. The self-assured boy who used to tell strangers of his meticulous car designs now spends his evenings agonizing over tomorrow’s crafting task. I haven’t seen a single “business plan” on his desk in years — because he is too busy iterating over mathematical problems that he’d mastered long ago.

And worse still, he seems to have forgotten the driving force of enthusiasm.

The art of self-learning is valuable in any densely populated country — especially in those eager to adhere to traditions and hold high regard for conformity.

Regardless of where you are, though, the endeavor of self-study boils down to the following motives:

1. You will have fun:

This might sound counter-intuitive to the the twenty-first century hedonist, but behold. Education is not a matter of social obligation; it is an integral component of humanity. Hard work comes easy when galvanized with passion. Resistance is the natural response to opposing forces.

My self-proclaimed “lazy” brother is the living proof that every enthusiastic person is capable of enjoying learning.

2. You will unleash your true purpose in life:

I initially embraced autodidactism as an effective way to avoid socialization. It was indeed a revolutionary discovery for me to realize I could get away with skipping school or refusing to attend evening school altogether. I could even read in the lunch break (and only get called names).

Now, with a (slightly) more mature attitude toward life, I see autodidactism in an even more positive light. Formal curricula are restricted to a limited range of subjects (as well as to an unoriginal perspective), which leaves little room for exploration. Autodidactism, in contrast, allows you to personalize your goals and thus, your future.

3. It will give you a genuine sense of accomplishment:

I was fortunate enough to be raised by a curious introvert enamored with ideas and a gregarious doer with a strong sense of discipline. Granted I was encouraged to thrive academically, and I suppose I did alright, but what reinforced my sense of identity was discovering the Internet and learning what I wanted to learn — all by myself. Passing a grade with merit doesn’t even compare to creating something of value from scratch.

4. It is, really, the only kind of education there is:

I’ve had a couple of teachers both furnished with a wealth of knowledge and gifted at teaching baffled adolescents. I have benefited from their presence in my life in ways perhaps even they didn’t recognize. As a matter of fact, it was them who equipped me with the tools to conceive these very ideas. Therefore, it would be ungrateful of me to deny their influence.

Criticism surrounding formal education is not particularly directed at its operators. However, I personally believe certain organizations are very susceptible to corruption, and certain people fail to prosper in such settings. In that case, autodidactism may be the answer.

It is for me.

    Zeynep Akkalyoncu

    Written by

    Always be optimizing

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade