Inside an unassuming building in the heart of Paris, multi billionaire Xavier Niel is single handedly revolutionizing education. He transformed a former government building into a state of the art learning facility that loosely resembles what we refer to as “school.”
Named École 42, this ground-breaking institution aims to graduate exceptional software engineers; how École 42 goes about doing it is unheard of. Founded on a project-based curriculum, all learning is self-taught or peer to peer, there are no teachers or pricey text books. Students work in teams of two to five, and tests are pass or fail. Self paced, the program takes two to three years to complete. The school is open 24 hours and boasts a first class cafeteria, offering students every opportunity to thrive.
In addition to learning everything they need to know about programming, École 42 students are developing traits that companies yearn for, yet traditional schools don’t teach, such as collaboration, self-investment, and internal drive. You’d expect a futuristic high-tech school such as this to cost a bundle, but in fact it’s free. École 42 accepts students from 18 to 30 years of age, and there is no education prerequisite. However the admissions process is grueling, and includes a four week tryout where perspective student put in up to 100 hours per week. Have no doubt, those who are accepted have earned their seat. From high-school drop outs to Stanford graduates, the vast assortment of students enrolled in École 42 only adds to its unorthodox approach to learning. As you might expect, most of the students are male, but females make up roughly 10 percent of the student population.
École 42’s unconventional approach to learning isn’t surprising once you learn more about its founder, Xavier Niel. Regarded as one of the most ambitious and successful tech entrepreneurs in his country, Niel is a self-taught programmer who never went to college. Among other notable businesses, Niel is the founder and majority owner of French ISP Free. He infused the school with a 70 million euro donation, and believes alumni will make donations that enable the school to be self sustaining.
École 42 has the potential to add thousands of highly skilled, driven software engineers to the labor pool every year, which could catapult the country’s tech competitiveness and position France as a leader in the tech industry. As tuition rates skyrocket and the programming field becomes increasingly competitive, America is ripe for a school similar to École 42.
On the downside, the traditional teacher-pupil school system hasn’t prepared students for the independent and peer to peer learning experience they’ll discover at École 42, and that could mean high dropout and failure rates. The incredibly demanding atmosphere also makes it nearly impossible for adult learners to balance academic life with their family life. Moreover, because success at École 42 is heavily dependent on collaboration and self motivation, students who find social interaction difficult or need a leader’s push are likely to struggle. École 42 offers students an amazing educational opportunity, but it isn’t for everyone.
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