Believe or not, I have an OP of 1.
My cohort represented the first Queensland students who, in 1992, ditched the old "TE score" only to be stratified into a pear-shape according to our core subject results. Based on this new system of ranking high school graduates, I was one of the first Queenslanders to sit in the top 2% of this fine pear.
Having had no social life during the last years of High School, I found myself evidently obtaining Very High Achievements in English, Economics, Maths I, Maths II, Chemistry and Physics.
I knew two conflicting things back then:
> I was going to be a Nasa engineer (hell yeah!)
> I was a dreamer and I had no idea what to do with myself
But considering approval and praise were showered from left, right and center, I did not question this second notion, preferring to forge ahead with my obscure Nasa fantasies and indulging in my mathematical geekiness.
At this point, my well-intentioned father interceded, suggesting I become a doctor. After all, isn't that what people did, back then, with an Op of 1? Enter Medicine or Law? But, proud of my technical bend and secretly horrified of disease, I decided to pursue Engineering.
I had in fact found an Engineering course where the university entry restrictions were comparatively high, requiring an Op of 3, and promptly applied to it, convinced that my admission would serve as yet another confirmation that I was brilliant.
In truth, I had not delved very deeply into what would actually give me a fulfilling career. I chose pride over happiness.
My Op 1 soon spread in the community much to the delight of my school. I was suddenly visited by a local newspaper. I remember posing for a photo. In my two hands, I held an absurd plastic plane that I had assembled with my brother so that the journo could take snaps at this eccentric prodigy who promised to one day, design a fancy new satellite launcher. I'm sure the journalist thought that I was a nut case. I shudder with shame.
Avionics Engineering came with its perks. My swipe card gave me access to a private lab on the top floor of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering building. I could while the hours on a flight simulator. With a co-pilot, I got to fly a Cessna twice and later, a helicopter. As a group, we flew to Melbourne and attended the Aviation show in Avalon. I was also the only girl in my class of 25, something which assured me the respect of most lecturers.
But if truth be known, the degree was in its inception and all attempts were made at making it so difficult so as to render life hell for all concerned. In the first semester, I had 12 subjects. And on average, I had 8 subjects per semester. (This has today been reduced to 4). I was practically a zombie, again with little social life compared to many.
When I look back on this, I understand that my choices in those days were a dangerous combination of pride, perfectionism, a high need for achievement, a tendency towards compliance which I had inherited from a strict Catholic upbringing, and a strong desire for approval. Finally, I had as a young adult, little understanding about what I wanted from life.
During this engineering degree that through sheer grit, I did complete, I found that I could solve complex engineering problems, program microchips, I could research and design a strategic defence system a la Star Wars, I could calculate the fuel requirements of any rocket for escape velocity and map the trajectory of a ballistic missile with Matlab software...yet, while the pride I derived (and still do) in solving problems kept me satisfied, still, I had no incentive, no desire, no procedure for delving deeply into myself to truly understand what sort of work would actually make me happy.
Glad that's all over with.
But I think that's the problem with education and with any upbringing that teaches intelligence over path-to-happiness.
So in the end, I am of the opinion that aside from the social contact it affords, the literacy and the basic mathematical skills that it encourages, school matters very little. Schooling and learning (or choosing to learn) are two very different things.