It’s never easy having the realisation that you’re never going to be able to advance as far as you want to in your career or be as satisfied with your life unless you rewind the clock and pick up some pieces that you may have let fall by the way side. Maybe you’re like me and your career was put on a certain trajectory because of subject choices you made in high school, or heck, university even. I mean most of us were still teenagers when we made our university decisions. What did we know?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have migrated from Linguistics, to web analytics, to data analysis and, depending on choices I make along the way, hopefully onwards to proper data science. This has been the result of a combination of good fortune (finding the right jobs at the right time), my personality (making sure people took notice of my skills and interests so they could help develop me in a certain direction), and damn hard work.
If you ended up doing a soft skill job that you don’t enjoy and are worried that, with high school long over, it’s too late to make a change, it’s not. Generally I abhor aphorisms and can always think of one opposing example when I’m skimming past pithy motivational posters on Facebook, but I do think that it’s never too late to make a change. This does of course come with some mild caveats. It’s never too late to make a change from, say, copywriting to mechanical engineering if you will be happier and more content with your life as an undergrad mechanical engineer than a senior copywriter. The satisfaction that comes with doing something you love and feeling like you’re contributing to the world in some meaningful way can be achieved at any age (provided, of course, that you have the means and environment to support such a drastic change).
To bring it back home a bit, I did standard grade mathematics at high school and drama instead of science from Grade 10. However, I use numerical reasoning in my career and I love science. I spend most of my free time stalking the latest articles of science journalists. The field doesn’t seem to matter too much to me. Geology, astronomy, atmospheric science, physics, Sure, a lot of it goes over my head, but it’s all mind blowing to me.
So how do you go about brushing up on high school maths and science when you matriculated years ago? Here are some resources that I managed to dig up, which I highly recommend. It’s really frustrating how hard it is to find proper resources for adults online. My research led me to all sorts of places, including home school forums. I had to Google “homeschool science curriculum high school -christian -creation -genesis -apologia” to get anywhere worthwhile. The system just isn’t set up to accommodate post-high school learners who wish to learn high school subjects. I hope someone out there finds this list useful and that it saves you a few weeks of internet scouring.
Most of these resources apply as much to science as they do to maths.
IXL – R89 a month, maths only. I know you were probably hoping for a list of free sites (and most of them are) but trust me, this one is amazingly worth it. Maths from preschool to Grade 11. You learn as you complete quizzes and you can track your progress. As you reach 70%, 80%, and 90% completion on a question the difficulty level changes to accommodate you, which motivates the learner to keep going even if they think they’re a boss at that particular topic. Sure, the prizes aren’t Khan Academy good, but the content is solid and modeled on the South African high school maths curriculum. Register as a parent and just sign yourself up again as a student through the parent profile. I renamed the parent “admin” so I didn’t feel like a complete dumbass who gave birth to myself.
Khan Academy – Free. Maths and science. I mentioned this in the previous point. It’s an amazing site that has everything I’ve looked for so far. Use these videos to supplement the material in IXL when you get stuck. And believe me, you will get stuck. It happens when you don’t have a teacher to speak to so just accept it as part of the learning process and don’t beat yourself up about it, even if it’s a Grade 9 topic (yes, this happened to me). Go ahead and complete some quizzes as well, the site makes it a lot of fun. Just make sure you follow the topic structure of IXL if you want to make sure you’re not missing any fundamentals.
Everything Maths – Free. Everything Science is the science equivalent. Siyavula is a Shuttleworth Foundation project which makes high school maths and science text books available online for free. It’s an incredible service. The site allows you to read the textbooks online without having to download them (although that’s an option too). The format is great; not some crap PDF you have to scroll through. You also have the option of practicing maths on the the site. It’s really amazing and worth looking into when you reach Grade 11 and 12 I reckon, especially since IXL only goes up to Grade 11.
X-Kit – About R110 a book. Consider getting some X-Kit Maths books for Grade 11 and Grade 12. They’re wonderful study guides and will easily help you figure out what your strengths and focus areas are. Check out their chemistry and physics books for high school as well.
Master Maths helped me a lot when I was actually in high school. Their tuition rates fluctuate depending on how many hours you attend one of their centers for, but they have an example fee structure here. 3 hours per week is about R92 an hour. This helps a lot if you actually need that one-on-one interaction of someone explaining something to you. I don’t remember them having Master Science when I went there but they do now, which is great!
Brainline – Brainline is a distance learning institution based in South Africa which allows adults to write their matric exams. It’s really wonderful that such a service exists but it comes with a few heavy caveats.
First, you have to complete the school based assessment portion of the work in order to qualify for the NSC (National Senior Certificate) exams, which is a certification you’ll need if you want to use these results to apply to a university. I assume this will be the case even if you already have your NSC.
Second, if you never took the subject in high school at all, such as me with science, you’re going to have to do their full matric offering which involves doing Grade 10 for half a year, Grade 11 for the second half of the year, and then a whole year doing Grade 12. You can do this part time but, remember, you’ll have to do the school based assessment portion as well.
Third, because the school based assessment is mandatory, there’s no room to use other materials instead of theirs and just write the exams when you feel you’re ready. This is quite frustrating if you spend all of your time on IXL, Khan Academy etc and then aren’t permitted to write the NSC. Plus I have no idea what the quality of their own material is like.
Fourth, it’s not cheap. If you’re doing the full adult matric with all subjects it’s going to be about R15,000. Per subject is more tolerable at around R3,500, but that still excludes the IEB exam fee.
Fifth, if you do a quick search you’ll find their FB page and their Hello Peter page. I saw these overwhelmingly negative comments before I decided to contact them with some questions. Sadly, communicating with them confirmed what I’d already seen online. You have to phone them if you want a decent response and then constantly chase them for the additional detail and follow-up they’d promised. Maybe it’s just my experience, but proceed with caution.
Damelin also offers matric by correspondence. I haven’t looked into this all that much, but here’s the link if you think it might be worth it: https://www.dcc.edu.za/high_school/matric-senior-certficate
So by now you’re half-genius and remember more high school maths than your not-in-finance friends. Whoop! Now let’s take it to the next level. Ad Maths will help you bridge the gap between high school and university maths. I’m not sure of the cost but they seem to offer a fairly solid distance learning, self-study option which is worth looking into.
There are also a lot of fun, educational science videos on YouTube. It’s tough learning chemistry in a distance learning environment because you miss out on the experiments and hands-on activities which make you really understand the material. YouTube channels like Periodic Videos really help you get around this. It comes complete with their mad-looking science teacher. They have a different video for each element.
If you want to start doing first year university stuff, a quick search will give you all the information you need, for free. Calculus on Coursera or Linear Algebra on MIT Openware, you have an oysterous world.