Mongolian Teen Aces an MIT Online Course, Then Gets Into MIT

The New York Times magazine profiled Battushig Myanganbayar of Ulan Bator.

Just in case you were feeling at all accomplished or self-important today, the New York Times Magazine has published a story about a Mongolian MIT freshman to put your life in perspective.

When he was 15 years old, Battushig Myanganbayar of Ulan Bator, Mongolia got a perfect score in the MIT Circuits and Electronics course he took through edX, the online education platform MIT cofounded with Harvard. But hey, you did two loads of laundry last night after work, so pat yourself on the back!

Battushig had some help from his school principal, the first-ever Mongolian MIT grad. Enkhmunkh Zurgaanjin, who graduated in 2009, encouraged his students to watch the course lectures online and asked a former classmate to bring equipment to Mongolia for several months and conduct labs to go alongside the coursework.

Cement your feelings of inadequacy by learning just how difficult it was for a Battushig to school 150,000 other course participants in a sophomore-level MIT course, even with the help of a brilliant mind and a dedicated educator:

Because the class was not approved by the ministry of education, students had to take it in addition to their regular courses. Battushig persuaded his parents to upgrade the Internet speed at their home from 1 megabit per second to 3 (the average in the United States is 8.6) to make it easier to watch the lectures.

Battushig was one of 20 students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, to enroll in the class. About half dropped out. The course is difficult in any setting—M.I.T. sophomores often pull all-nighters—and the Mongolian students were taking it in a second language […] To help his classmates, [Battushig] made videos in Mongolian that offered pointers and explanations of difficult concepts and posted them on YouTube.

But hey, Battushig’s story isn’t just cool because it make you feel bad about yourself. No, it also contains cool implications for edX and the movement toward massive open online courses (or MOOCs.) A major critique of online education is that it doesn’t foster the interactive learning of an on-campus experience. edX has since set up hybrid classes like the Mongolian one to combine the world-class lectures with hands-on classroom learning. “It changed the way I think,” the edX president tells the Times.

Second, MOOCs could be used to identify some of the world’s most talented students and bring them to our campuses, even if they haven’t made it to an international school or magnet program that typically funnels outstanding international kids into schools like MIT. Battushig is settling into his freshman year at M.I.T. as we speak. And his dean of admissions doesn’t want his case to be unique:

Stuart Schmill, the dean of admissions, said Battushig’s perfect score proved that he could handle the work. […] “The MOOCs may well offer the opportunity for us to get more students from remote areas who haven’t been in these magnet cultures,” Schmill said.

You heard it here first, boy and girl geniuses of the remotest parts of the world. Get thee to the edX website and get notice.