Up until very recently, the thought was that you couldn’t have a school, even an online school employing advanced technology, without having a teacher to lead classes. However, with the growing demand for highly skilled technical workers, the field of computer programming is challenging this idea.
A new school in Paris, France, called 42, a play off the answer to the question of life from science fiction novel, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, believes they found a better student path. And it is off to a great start. 42 recently received over 60,000 applications for its new student class. 4,000 of them were accepted and have moved into the facilities after completing the acceptance process – a cognitive skills test. The halls are now littered with book bags and sleeping bags, as the first group competes over long days (it’s open 24/7) to earn one of the final 1,000 spots available for students. And yes, once they start class, there are no teachers.
42’s director, Nicolas Sadirac, explained the process this way, “It’s very, very intensive. It’s a kind of selection, but for the long term. So we don’t just do an examination. We spend four weeks choosing each student.” The criteria for applying are simple. You must be between 18 and 30 years old. That’s it. You need no money or academic achievement to be considered. In fact, a third of applicants didn’t even have a high school diploma. In the eyes of the founder, Xavier Neil, it comes down to how a student thinks, not what they already know. That one idea helped push the leader in telecommunications to invest $90 million of his personal money to start the teacher-free school.
So, after making it to the final 1,000 open spots, how will a student continue to learn with no instructor guiding them? Sadirac continued to explain the school’s goals, “We don’t want to teach them stuff. We want them to find solutions on problems, because we don’t know the problems in the future. So we are creating students able to learn by themselves.” 42 wants students who do not always follow the standard path of education, as they feel that that path can limit a student’s ability to innovate and find creative solutions. Instead, 42 will use a Peer 2 Peer learning model to encourage creativity, driven by projects that not only allow a student to learn programming, but also valuable traits including productivity, collaboration, and self-investment.
So will it work? It might. In the US, similar programs have popped up. Dev Bootcamp follows a similar path, but only offers a 9-week intensive program, where 42 will take a minimum of three years to complete. The longer timeframe allows for students to come together on a massive final project, called a masterpiece, which will act much more like an apprenticeship to a career, preparing students for the working world while also further building their skillset. The no-teacher route is an interesting path in a constantly evolving area of education, and I can’t wait to see how the students impact the programming world.