Too smart for school, too young for college

The General Equivalency Development (GED) examination has an age limit of 17, but two teenage sisters say they are ready to take the test now.

October 24, 2011, Dubai, UAE:

Boushra (left), 15, and Line Dalile(right), 14, have just passed their TOEFL proficiency exams. The girls have also already lectured at a TED conference and are currently eyeing university. They managed to do all of this on their own, using each other and online courses as their sole teachers. 

They are seen here in the bedroom they share, holding Boushra's laptop, which has her online TOEFL degree on the screen.
Lee Hoagland/The National
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DUBAI // Two teenage sisters who left school in 2009 to teach each other at home have been told they are too young for university, despite breezing through a crucial entrance test.

Boushra Dalile, 15, and her sister Line, 14, completed their Test of English as a Foreign Language in July. Boushra scored 97 out of 120 and Line 87.

On average, universities require undergraduate students to have scored 74.2.

"We didn't find preparing for it very difficult," said Boushra. "Considering all the work done by ourselves, I think it's a good result."

The Syrian sisters plan to retake the test and improve their scores, but their campus ambition has been stymied by the age limit on the General Educational Development (Ged) exam, a secondary school equivalency test.

"We were planning to the take the Ged exam but there is an age limit of 17, even though we are prepared for it," said Line.

They have approached the Ged committee in the US but have not yet received a response.

Instead of waiting for two or three years, the girls plan to enrol at online universities that do not have such strict requirements.

Boushra is in talks with a student adviser to set up a study plan for a degree in behavioural studies through Swinburne University of Technology, in Australia.

Line will take courses in astronomy through the Open University in the UK. It is not ideal. She would prefer to study cosmology, but the university does not offer it and has an age limit of 16.

"However, if you send them a resume of your work they will take you into consideration," said Line.

The path the sisters have taken to meet their education goals has met some criticism.

"Our goal is not to obtain a certificate, our goal is to learn as much as we can," said Boushra, who will start her degree course next February.

"Hunger for knowledge should be the aim for anyone our age," she said.

"I think what the society and schools do to students is they make them feel like they have to learn. They erase the natural desire for learning."

As Line sees it: "If you put a child in nature he will be curious to learn, unlike if you put them in school and give them a book to study it in a structured way."

Their father, Hussam Eldin Dalile, is proud of his daughters' results.

"It's a great achievement because they planned their own studying schedule and received the scores on their own without being taught by anyone but themselves," Mr Dalile said.

He said he would like to set up a group of other parents and officials to discuss home schooling and regulations.

"Nowadays you can buy a certificate," Mr Dalile said. "This means that piece of paper has lost its worth. Studying should be like a hobby. With freedom, the result is creativity."

Lina Yousef, the girls' mother, said the family learnt something new every day.

"Every night when we sit at the dinner table, the girls share with us new information or ideas about what they learnt," Ms Yousef said.

Boushra and Line are fluent in Arabic and English. Boushra can also speak Italian and French and plans to learn Spanish. Line can speak German and Mandarin, and plans to learn Greek.

On average, they study or read five books a month.

Line is also working on her second book, Typing Fingers, which contains her poetry and creative writing tips. And both sisters are avid golfers.

"We are really outgoing and we do a lot of golfing and other activities. We do not miss any social activities," said Boushra.

"In the end, it's not about the paper we are holding, it's about the information you have and the experience you gained."