In France, a Tech School Called 42


I just discovered this 2-year old school via an article in The Chronicle (unfortunately, mostly behind a subscriber paywall)  "In France, a Free Tech School Shakes Up Higher Education"

It is a nonprofit school known simply as "42." (I do like that the name comes from Douglas Adams’s novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which the number 42 is the answer to the ultimate question - though no one knows what the question is.)

The school doesn’t provide a degree or charge tuition (MOOC-like). It offers only a training program in computer science. In its 2 years, it has been very popular and has had its own shots at disrupting teaching, credentials and technology training pedagogy.

Unlike MOOCs, it is not "open." They have had 70,000 people from Europe and beyond apply for 900 openings. That makes them, in the American way of ranking, more selective than the Ivy League universities.

The whole enterprise would seem less disruptive in Europe where government-subsidized public universities with low or no tuition is a reality. Still, a school without grades, diplomas, or even textbooks and a regular faculty is not the norm anywhere in higher education.

Are universities worried about this? Not much. As with MOOCs, higher education is curious but not worried as long as students and parents are willing to still pay lots of money to get that degree.

But Nicolas Sadirac, one of its four founders, says official accreditation is not what 42’s leaders aspire to — in fact, they shun it. "We don’t want to have to play by those rules," says Mr. Sadirac, who describes France’s universities and vocational schools as lethargic knowledge factories that pump out rote learners.

"42’s goal is not to fill our students’ heads with facts and theories," he says, "but to help them become creative innovators who can solve complex problems together with peers."

Some have compared 42 to offerings like the American Codecademy rather than to colleges.

Sadirac is 42’s director and a former university administrator, but it is Xavier Niel (who made his money in Internet and telecommunications) who donated $90 million to start 42 and rent facilities, hardware and pay for students and staffing.

10 Notes About 42

1. Admissions does not require a degree like the baccalauréat used in France to graduate high school and enter college.

2. Applicants are 18-30 years old

3. If you do well on their online aptitude test, you are invited to 42 in Paris as finalists.

4. Each finalist is given a coding problem and four weeks to complete it.

5. About 4000 finalists are then cut to under 1000.

6. There are no formal classes.

7. Students choose projects solve increasingly difficult problems working in teams of two to five,

8. Solve the problems and pass. If you don't, you fail.

9. Students work at their own pace but are expected to "graduate" within two to four years.

10. The goal is jobs - especially in France’s tech-software-engineering sector, which lacks highly skilled personnel


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