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The university without any teachers

The university without any teachers

There are hotels in Europe without any staff. You drive up and check in via a machine that issues your room key, the door unlocks and you go up to your room. Then you eat from vending machines, stay the night and check out, all without any human contact.

This concept has now been brought to classroom education. There’s a coding school – started in Europe, just like the hotels – that offers programming courses without any teachers, and does not issue any diploma or degree qualifications. It’s open 24/7, and it’s very popular.

École 42 was started in 2013 in Paris by Xavier Niel, a zillionaire telecoms businessman and philanthropist. It’s entirely free, funded by Xavier Niel’s money. It operates on new modern teaching principles including peer-to-peer learning and project-based learning. In other words, the students teach each other. The school does not even own any intellectual property. All such rights belong to the students.

There does need to be some kind of structure, of course. A pedagogic team suggests projects for the students. But classroom teachers are entirely absent. The beginning of the program focuses on Unix and C. Projects include developing a first-person shooter engine, a 3D-rendering engine, an arcade game, artificial intelligence and a virus. Following this phase students will work with languages like PHP, C++, OCAML and potentially many others.

To get in, you must complete a series of logical reasoning tests. If you’re good enough, you are enrolled on a 4-week intensive coding bootcamp called piscine (swimming pool). It’s an immersive (geddit?) experience in which ‘only motivation, willpower and hard work will keep you afloat.’ If successful, a full-time academic studentship awaits at 42 with internship opportunities and a lot of cachet. The school’s motto is ‘Born To Code’, and now there’s one in the USA.

Students not only get a lot of geek cred and career opportunities by gaining the keys to the castle, they also get a full university education free of charge. Considering the eye-watering cost of a college education in the United States, it’s no surprise that the piscines have an awful lot of applicants. Xavier Niel’s objective is to fill the skills gap which bedevils recruiters, while allowing students to enter working life without having amassed a crippling level of debt. It’s all funded by a cool $100 million he has happily peeled off from his $10 billion personal wad. The U.S. school is based in Fremont, Silicon Valley, for optimum networking opportunities.

42’s philosophy includes the following mission statement: ‘On a broad scale, 42’s mission is to offer to young adults a better chance at succeeding as we strive to undercover the talents of this generation in the field of programming. Traditional selection criteria often prevent too many of today’s young adults either from reaching their higher education goals or from attaining a professional skill set. At 42, neither financial ability nor educational degree are weighed in the selection process; the fact that students are selected solely on the basis of their talent and motivation is indicative of the core philosophy of this uniquely innovative, educational approach.’

Where did the school gets its name, 42? Well, if you don’t know that, then sorry, you’re not enough of a geek to get in anyway, so just back away slowly and go about your business. (Hint: it’s the answer to a very big question).