There seems to be a recent trend towards home-schooling. The failures of the default school system in most countries are quite apparent and the violence alone is enough of a reason to keep children away from high-schools, even without the education (or lack therof).
I have previously written about University degrees and whether they are needed .
The university I attended (which I won’t name in this context) did an OK job of teaching students. The main thing that struck me was that you would learn as much as you wished at university. It was possible to get really good marks without learning much (I have seen that demonstrated many times) or learn lots of interesting things while getting marks that are OK (which is what I did). So I have been considering whether it’s possible to learn as much as you would learn at university without attending one, and if so how to go about it.
Here are the ways I learned useful things at university:
- I spent a lot of time reading man pages and playing with the various Unix systems in the computer labs. It turned out that sys-admin work was one of my areas of interest (not really surprising given my history of running Fidonet BBS systems). It was unfortunate that my university (like almost all other universities) had no course on system-administration and therefore I was not able to get a sys-admin job until several years after graduating.
- I read lots of good text books (university libraries are well stocked).
- There were some good lectures that covered interesting material that I would not have otherwise learned (there were also some awful lectures that I could have missed – like the one which briefly covered computer security and mentioned NOTHING other than covert channels – probably the least useful thing that they could cover).
- I used to hang out with the staff who were both intelligent and friendly (of which there were unfortunately a small number). If I noticed some students hanging out in the office of one of the staff in question I would join them. Then we would have group discussions about many topics (most of which were related to computers and some of which were related to the subjects that we were taking), this would continue until the staff member decided that he had some work to do and kicked us out. Hanging out with smart students was also good.
- I did part-time work teaching at university. Teaching a class forces you to learn more about the subject than is needed to basically complete an assignment. This isn’t something that most people can do.
I expect that Children who don’t attend high-school will have more difficulty in getting admitted to a university (the entrance process is designed for the results of high-school). Also if you are going to avoid the public education system then it seems useful to try and avoid it for all education instead of just the worst part. Even for people who weren’t home-schooled I think that there are still potential benefits in some sort of home-university system.
Now a home-university system would not be anything like an Open University. One example of an Open University is Open Universities Australia , another is the UK Open University . These are both merely correspondence systems for a regular university degree. So it gives a university degree without the benefit of hanging out with smart people. While they do give some good opportunities for people who can only study part-time, in general I don’t think that they are a good thing (although I have to note that there are some really good documentaries on BBC that came from Open University).
Now I am wondering how people could gain the same benefits without attending university. Here are my ideas of how the four main benefits that I believe are derived from university can be achieved without one (for a Computer Science degreee anyway):
- Computers are cheap, every OS that you would ever want to use (Linux, BSD, HURD, OpenSolaris, Minix, etc) is free. It is quite easy to install a selection of OSs with full source code and manuals and learn as much about them as you desire.
- University libraries tend not to require student ID to enter the building. While you can’t borrow books unless you are a student or staff member it is quite easy to walk in and read a book. It may be possible to arrange an inter-library loan of a book that interests you via your local library. Also if a friend is a university student then they can borrow books from the university library and lend them to you.
- There are videos of many great lectures available on the net. A recent resource that has been added is Youtube lectures from the University of California Berkely  (I haven’t viewed any of the lectures yet but I expect them to be of better than average quality). Some other sources for video lectures are Talks At Google  and TED – Ideas Worth Spreading .
- To provide the benefits of hanging out with smart people you would have to form your own group. Maybe a group of people from a LUG could meet regularly (EG twice a week or more) to discuss computers etc. Of course it would require that the members of such a group have a lot more drive and ambition than is typical of university students. Such a group could invite experts to give lectures for their members. I would be very interested in giving a talk about SE Linux (or anything else that I work on) to such a group of people who are in a convenient location.
- The benefits of teaching others can be obtained by giving presentations at LUG meetings and other forums. Also if a group was formed as suggested in my previous point then at every meeting one or more members could give a presentation on something interesting that they had recently learned.
The end result of such a process should be learning more than you would typically learn at university while having more flexible hours (whatever you can convince a group of like-minded people to agree to for the meetings) that will interfere less with full-time employment (if you want to work while studying). In Australia university degrees don’t seem to be highly regarded so convincing a potential employer that your home-university learning is better than a degree should not be that difficult.
If you do this and it works out then please write a blog post about it and link to this post.
StraighterLine offers as much tuition as you can handle over the Internet for $99 per month . That sounds really good, but it does miss the benefits of meeting other people to discuss the work. Maybe if a group of friends signed up to StraighterLine  at the same time it would give the best result.
-  http://etbe.coker.com.au/2007/01/24/university-degrees/
-  https://www.open.edu.au/wps/portal
-  http://www.open.ac.uk/
-  http://youtube.com/ucberkeley
-  http://www.youtube.com/user/AtGoogleTalks
-  http://www.ted.com/
-  http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/feature/college_for_99_a_month.php
-  http://www.straighterline.com/