École 42: Learning How to Learn

École 42 is unlike any other school in France. When it first started, people could have laughed about it. École 42 has now more than 15,000 students in over 25 countries with 42 campuses. It is recognized as one of the best coding schools in the world. École 42 operates as a tuition-free non-profit computer coding school. Applicants ages between 18 and 30 get admitted through a competitive entrance procedure as only 4 out 100 applicants are admitted. It could take 2 to 4 years to complete the program. However, most of École 42 students can’t finish the program because they land a job before the end of their program. Good quality developers that employers really need are in short supply and there is a huge digital skill gap that École 42 tries to address.

École 42 aims to inspire and educate the future digital generation with an innovative, accessible, and affordable learning experience. École 42 is motivational and entertaining for people who have an appetite to learn. The learner’s reaction has been very positive. Now, it operates globally and tries to keep up with the same level of quality all across the world. École 42 has no teachers, no scheduled classes, and no books. There is a team that carefully designs the gamified curriculum and with an effective pedagogical plan. Curriculum is deeply rooted in project-based learning that is best suited in a collaborative peer-to-peer learning environment.

École 42 encourages people to learn how to learn. It means developing skills to stay relevant and curious about challenging questions in our generation. Learning how to learn helps learners build up confidence and brain muscle for any challenge coming their way. Curriculum is fun to follow as long as learners are willing to tackle a quest after quest. Learners get points when they complete projects in the curriculum. It gives a sense of achievement and also unlocks more projects in the specialization tracks. That way, learners can quickly master different skills and build their portfolio as their tangible achievement to show to a potential recruiter. Learners can also figure out where they stand by comparing their levels in the cohort.

Once admitted, there is a mandatory experience that you have to participate in called Piscine even if you can start anytime. Piscine in French means swimming pool. Piscine helps learners dive into coding and learn how to swim out from this deep water with help from your peers. Piscine is like a four-week long boot camp. During this period, learners will discover the basics of coding from scratch, but it also filters out those unwilling to progress. Piscine is an intensive process and, therefore, it is not possible for learners to engage or spend time on other commitments or jobs simultaneously. No prerequisites of any kind are required. No degrees, nor prior coding training are needed. There is no fixed limit of applicants. So, if you make it, you make it.

Xavier Niel, the man behind École 42, is a French entrepreneur and self-made billionaire. He is a partner of Delphine Arnault, a daughter of Europe’s richest man, Bernard Arnault of LVMH. Mr. Niel also spearheaded the creation of Station F, the world’s largest startup incubator at la Halle Freyssinet, an old rail freight depot apart from his founding work and major ownership of Free, second-largest Internet service provider and third largest mobile operator in France. He also owns significant shares of Le Monde and sits on the board of KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) and URM (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield). His modest upbringing was the inspiration behind his education venture, École 42. He has emphasized on the need for a school that allows anyone to start out on an equal footing. He believed that anyone could become a great coder if they possess only two things: logical thinking and their will to pull through.

In the creative economy, a diploma is not something that you can objectively judge somebody whether they can do a job or not. Diploma is evidence showing that those who have earned it have followed the rules well. In contrast, entrepreneurs are rule breakers as entrepreneurs are always trying to find ways of doing things differently and they often say that any conventional rules shouldn’t apply to them. Pedigree has no meaning to them in today’s context of the technocracy. Engineers and advocates of the lowest-ranked castes from India, for example, say that tech industries don’t care about caste and haven’t discriminated against anyone as long as they are capable of delivering the result. École 42 also breaks all the rules for educating software engineers.

Thirst for an exciting and lucrative career is a powerful motivator. Career aspiration drives the market for education of many types from a competitive kindergarten to elite university. This is simple and enriching to hear this “if you are in, you’ll be a success.” École 42 sounds like a compelling and alternative route to become a successful software developer. Though, coding is not a job. The requirements among employers could vary and individual positions would require different skills. Employers still value conventional credentials. They may call for sophisticated or specialized skills like advanced mathematics or the entire life-cycle of software development with specific and proprietary tools that can be rigorously obtained in higher education. Partner companies could apply for real-life challenges to be included into the curriculum but knowledge foundation and archives created or accumulated by leading institutions are crucial ingredients for a holistic learning experience, too.

Quite recently, I am thrilled to engage with a new education venture in Wales much inspired by École 42. Wales is a country in Great Britain that has a distinctive culture including its own language, customs, politics, festivals and music. Their rich history, culture, and heritage can be combined with the latest digital technologies as it can be enjoyed by a broader audience with no limit. Welsh culture is full of traditions and legends. In Wales, heritage is something that refuses to be contained in museums or dusty books. Wherever we turn, we will appreciate a rich and complex history from the remains of grand estates built by aristocrats and industrialists. Wales was the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution and many great modern inventions were created there. Wales has adopted many new cultural artifacts, but it is like a well-kept secret with its identity and many local traditions that can be a cradle for the powerful new creative economy. Innovative education can bring in talents and opportunities to this beautiful country. We must invest in education as education could solve a complex puzzle and inspire positive social changes.