A School With No Teachers, Where Students Teach Themselves

| September 16, 2013
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By Eleanor Beardsley, NPR

A new computer school in Paris has been overwhelmed by some 60,000 applicants.

The school, called 42, was founded by a telecom magnate who says the French education system is failing young people. His aim is to reduce France’s shortage in computer programmers while giving those who’ve fallen by the wayside a new chance.

In the hallways of 42, suitcases and sleeping bags are piled, and people are stretched out on mattresses in some of the corners. There are showers and dozens of colorful bath towels.

Living here for the next month are some of the 4,000 potential students who already made the first cut by passing cognitive skill tests online.

Now they have to clear another hurdle. They’re thrown together and challenged with computer problems for 15 hours a day. Only 800 students will get a place, says 42′s director, Nicolas Sadirac.

A Demand For Thinkers From Any Class

“It’s very, very intensive,” Sadirac says. “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 only criteria for applying is to be between the ages of 18 and 30. Applicants don’t need money, or a particular level of academic achievement. A third don’t even have high school diplomas.

Sadirac says they’re not looking for how much students know, but how they think. One of the school’s main goals is to unearth talent in poor areas, where kids don’t fit into the traditional French academic mold.

“We don’t want to teach them stuff. We want them to find solutions on problems, because we don’t know the problem in the future. So we are creating students able to learn by themselves.”

Youth unemployment in France is at a 14-year high. At the same time, French companies cannot find enough IT specialists, and thousands of young computer enthusiasts can’t get training. That prompted 42′s founder Xavier Niel to invest $90 million of his own money in the school.

Niel, the creator of France’s third largest telecommunications company, Free, says the social elevator in France is broken.

“If you’re the son of a blue-collar worker, you’re going to be a blue collar worker,” Niel says. “Children of elites stay elite. We have 200,000 kids a year who drop out of the French school system and have no hope. They become a drag on society. We want to help these young people take control of their lives.”

A Different Way To Learn

The school’s name is taken from the science fiction classic, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where 42 is the answer to the question of life.

Sadirac is sure that graduates of 42 will have the real life IT skills to get a job, even though the school’s methods are a complete departure from France’s highly centralized education system. There are no teachers. Students learn by solving problems.

“We don’t want to teach them stuff,” he says. “We want them to find solutions on problems, because we don’t know the problem in the future. So we are creating students able to learn by themselves.”

Sadirac says in the next 20 years the world will change at a staggering pace. 42 is looking for young people who can think outside the box. He says formal academic training can sometimes hinder that by teaching students to follow models rather than innovate.

“So if we want to make people innovative, or creative, we need to get out of this system,” he says.

Another Kind Of Open Campus

During their final year, 42′s students will work together on a huge project known as a masterpiece. Much like an apprenticeship, they build their talents and learn from each other.

Candidate Lloyd Cochet, 18, loves the school’s philosophy.

“I had a hard time following in school,” Cochet says. “They forbid us to talk in class. And here, talking together and passing along tips is the key to succeeding.”

Outside on the sidewalk, Omar Marzougi, 27, is taking a break. His parents emigrated from Tunisia. Many young people with North African roots say they face discrimination in France. It’s a complicated issue, Marzougi says, but he’s sure of one thing.

“There’s no discrimination at this school, because getting in isn’t based on your education level or social status,” he says. “It’s a true melting pot.”

 

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  • erika761

    my Aunty Kaylee recently got a fantastic silver Saab 9-3 Convertible just by part-time work from a computer… weblink w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

  • Giselle Pempedjian

    Care and Dare!
    What a perception! Mr. Sadirac advocates a great educational philosophy! But who dares to take such a giant leap to replace the obsolete educational system? ! That’s a leader!

    • BodiJohn

      Amen!

  • subarashii

    I think that is a great way to learn for life, students work collaborativelly and that makes finding a solution easier!

    • ctmbv

      15 hours a day!!!??? And no inspiration or supervision?

  • DaisyLiverman

    Really nice to see such an innovative school which has been established for students,where they are been guiding and learnt by themselves with them help of computers.Its all about new technology which has made world to grow so fast and improve in their fields.Thanks for sharing..

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  • jpn

    sounds promising, finding by yourself is the only way to true learning. 95% of teachers don’t have a clue of an encompassing definition of understanding…

    • BodiJohn

      The key is to build in subject matter experts and expert thinkers…some teachers may not make the cut…but others will rise to the occassion and spend their time rocking and rolling with their kids! Minimize LOTS and maximize HOTS! Let’s go!
      Teachers need to wake up and realize that movements like the one mentioned here are proliferating in spite of them…you can either find a role or find another line of work…I’d hate to see that…having the processes mentioned in place under the mentorship of journeymen/women knowledge workers is the best!
      Let’s do this thing!
      As Alan Shepard said while waiting out a delay in his space shot, “Light the candle and let’s kick this pig!”

      • ctmbv

        The problem is actually less with (most) teachers and more to do with government overseeing public education. The enviroment & rules hinders great teachers & child lovers from being able to effectively teach. Classrooms are set up for crowd management & teachers are restricted by government standards and public education curricula. This schooling idea is intriguing, but they still will need crowd control & someone to love on & excite the students or we risk becoming some sci-fi version of society where human interactions are left to die and people become less like Shakespeare & more like Data from Star Trek.

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  • MarkFeild

    The trend is such that nowadays students love the ambiance
    of online education as it helps them not only learn in an interactive way but
    also saves cost! For more details you can visit here.
    http://www.mayfielduniversity.com/programs/certificate/

  • Maryalice Leister

    I am fascinated and hope to follow this movement closely. The engagement of the learner is everything, Imagine students fighting for a spot in this environment.

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  • Ronan Mc Guire

    The possibilities for technology to affect education are vast. Blended learning-that is learning in the traditional sense of the brick-and-mortar university mixed with online learning is already showing its benefits. Other education providers in Europe like https://iversity.org/ work with pedagogy experts to provide an interactive and engaging learning experience, along with peer to peer learning (which in my view is hugely important). Sure, with online only courses you are not in the same physical classroom as the lecturer-but these norms and expectations are changing by the day.

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  • BodiJohn

    It’s about time! Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out in 1982! …Leave them kids alone! Ask great questions and then put kids into typical knowledge work environments and expect them to provide answers..then, keep ramping up the complexity…Demand performance and impose timelines and expected deliverables..JUST LIKE REAL WORK! Let them deal with the stress…establish auspicious conditions for learning (if kids come in with behavioral issues- study behavior together and expect change!)…

    The information is available…almost too much information! A dream after years of scrounging for resources! Push kids to learn how to learn…alone and together! Rock and roll! School should be humming and full of the smell of racing brain cells!
    Example: I just framed my shed…I used to work as a framing carpenter…but, I was more laborer than carpenter…So, when it came to laying out roof rafters I was in the dark pretty much. I watched five or six videos on line…they stimulated some hazy recall…I decided to build my own trusses…and, as I ran into problems, I went back to the research…and as I went along, I learned from my mistakes…the next one would take half the time..(If i had a subject matter expert to contact…it would be the complete package)…The key: you can do almost anything as long as you have access to a computer and the internet..add an expert and you really can do almost anything! The problem is ADULTS!
    So many kids are dying to be let go! As subject experts (and thinking experts) we need to model behaviors not ‘teach’ content that a 6 year old can find on the web…
    Hey, Teachers, leave them kids alone!!!

    • lmsfinally

      It’s only going to happen in isolated areas unfortunately. It’s got to spread slowly and quietly for it to stick.

      • BodiJohn

        Why!!???

      • BodiJohn

        This is the problem in education…got to go slow, got to bring people (meaning teachers) along so that they ‘buy in’…I hate to say it but ADULTS are the problem…need to get over it and get on with it and we need to do it quickly! This should have already happened…

    • Chris

      not to pick nits but The Wall album was 1979 the movie was 1982

      • BodiJohn

        good pick up…still, long time ago!

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  • Teri

    My 9 year old son has learning “disabilities” so we homeschool. I ask him, “What do you want to learn today?” When he answers I tell him, “Go figure out how to do it.”

    • BodiJohn

      Awesome! You are ‘teaching’ him how to learn! Bravo!

    • Andrew

      i wish someone did this with me when i was growing up.

  • Echo Vector

    Is there *ANYTHING* that the MSM can get right?

    42 is not “the answer to the question of life”.

    It is the answer to Life, the Universe and EVERYTHING.

    smh

  • BKenn01

    Teachers Unions will fight this intensely when its brought to America

  • Curlzmt

    This is absolutely beautiful! this is why I love being homeschooled! I believe public school systems set us up to fail.

  • Kat

    I’m excited that people are experimenting with educational approaches like this and the Sudbury Valley model. I would love to see this model show an interest in developing people capable of more than just getting IT work and solving problems (as needed as these skills are). For example, collaboration, interpersonal communication, conflict skills. This model has strong indicators of valuing competition and pushing students beyond their wellbeing with long hours.

  • supercheesenips

    Sounds like slaver labor to me – and there’s something to be said for teaching, which, incidentally, takes work.

    • Herr Hur

      Yeah, slavery was exactly like when young people apply for free education and work oppurtunities…. Get real!

    • Soyel

      Actually, I was there for 4 weeks in July for the selection (I’m French so sorry for my english) and the 15h/day is not a mandatory at all (even though you have to be motivated to learn and share with other students). I had so much fun learning this way and exchanging with different kind of people from different educations and backgrounds… if there were subways all night long in Paris, I would have spent much more time than 15h/day there. Nobody was forced to do anything (the school is open 24/7 and you can come or leave whenever you wish to, be it 6pm or am). Do we look like slaves to you : http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x121oke_je-peux-pas-j-ai-piscine-18-07-13_school ? Hope you better understand the situation this way as your point of view was distorted by your lack of informations.

      • ctmbv

        I guess if it is a choice to be there to begin with, and a choice how much a person wants to be there each day. It should never become the norm though because some people couldn’t or wouldn’t want to learn this way. It makes me think of my child with Aspergers. He wouldn’t mind the sterile enviroment of sharing logical ideas and skipping any emotion or “fun”. My artistic child would die in that type of enviroment. And my other child is motivated by teachers and authority and God, so I don’t know this would be a good fit for him either.

    • kostkar29 .

      I don’t really agree with you, although I understand your point. We cannot always generalise about how education works or fails, judging by one example no matter how innovative and successfull, as the particular one, is.

      Certainly, we should not neglect that this school, if I understand right, requires an already established motivation from the side of learners. Formal education teachers, normally have to motivate learners by themselves.

      This article was definetely interesting to read for sure.

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  • trhippy

    Nobody else finds this a bit Doctor-Who-sinister? 15 hours a day? Lost generation? Human brains working together to solve problems, basically forming a big computer? Something to do with a telecommunications company? They’re trying to fix a discarded alien device that will beam mind-control rays across the planet and turn us all into slaaaaaves hahahahaha

    • ctmbv

      <3 that response! Yes!!! To take all emotion out of raising children (& dealing with older students). They are trying to make an all Asperger society! Next all babies will be mass produced in glass because the thought of love & human touch will be revolting to society! LOL

      • trhippy

        haha and half of the ones that don’t make the grade are plugged into the Matrix-style power generator while the other half are mushed into pulp to feed the battery-humans!

    • Curcolio

      Hi !

      Though it is true IT developers are clearly overworked, 15hrs a day are the goal some students set for themselves.

      I am a student @ 42. I positively love my school – and I am no lost youth, quick background, 5yrs (2 french degrees) in Neurosciences (specialized after a biology cursus) and Chemistry, from sales rep to manager in 4 cities in renewable energies, and then (mostly) successful entrepreneur, I needed to learn to code. I happen to stay overnight somedays, and yes, I work long hours. Most of us do. But the point is, we are here to experiment.

      Students fresh out of high school will try those 15hrs a day, then realize it does not suit them, and work on a schedule. Some will work 18hrs a day 3 days in a row and take the rest of the week off. We are here to learn what works for us, in an environment that lets us test our limits, not be brainwashed or slip into the habits of 9am-5pm because “that’s what everyone does”. We are here to set an example, to make a statement : we’ll work hard, and we’ll work well for what we love, if you give us the freedom to do so.

      I wish you to find this kind of fulfilment in your job area :)

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  • joanne miller

    Like BodiJohn says, “Ask great questions….” Who do you think is coming up with these computer problems to solve? I suppose there are teachers behind the scenes. I love the idea, but at some point a teacher is involved despite what the article says. It isn’t so easy coming up with these great questions. It takes a teacher.

  • Sheila E.

    As a education major I find this idea not only interesting but a great start to something American students could perhaps learn from. I have two adult children and one eleven year old. I personally have seen the difference in abilities of learning in my own children. I do know first hand that this will work for those who are self disciplined and want the knowledge of learning, however, for those people who lack the motivation to be disciplined a teacher will always be a necessity of life. Some just need to have that extra push that only a positive influence, such as a parent, or perhaps a teacher to be there to encourage or guide them through their studies. As a parent and future educator I wish that we would teach students more of life skills to prepare them for real life experiences but without adults to show them paths of direction, how do we expect them to learn? Adults need to be held accountable for a child’s education. I am 1/1 at this point I have a child who wants nothing more than a high school diploma, while the other will be graduating in December with a bachelors degree in microbiology. No one thing will work for every child. Sad but true.

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  • Beefbush

    Lovely. Problem solving is something they don’t teach at school. True. But here is what I did learn and use every day: computerarchitecture, discrete mathematics, statistics, compiler theory,… Do you need to understand all of that to solve problems I see from day to day? Not really, but I’d miss out. It feels like there isn’t a solid plan, just an excuse to find cheap labour.
    That’s just my hymble opinion, I could be wrong.

    • Soyel

      Sorry but I don’t think you get it. The point is not only to learn how to solve problems, “monkeys can do that”. There is nobody to teach us the theory in this “school” but that does not mean that we do not have to search for it. Internet is full of knowledge and some courses from the best university in the IT world are online (MIT, Cambridge, etc). We learn to search for informations and to learn by ourselves.

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  • Ryanisinallofus

    Yet another alternative school which relies on student selection to produce results.

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  • markshade

    Good idea to motivate young people.

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  • Sherko Sdeeq

    amazing idea

  • pimp

    42 is not a good idea

  • MAIN PIMP i GET Puusy

    42 a dumb idea because it will get people blind and not smart and less proactive

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  • erendis

    Or maybe the problem is that public schools are tasked with trying to “leave NO child behind”- educating every single one equally. This program is only going to *accept* 800 out of 60k applicants and 4000 initial entries. If I could cull public school students like that, it would not be so challenging to meet expectations…

  • Dorota Gawrońska-Popa

    MegaMatma.pl will be very very fit in school like this

  • KB

    Cognitive test to get in? Screening out students based on executive function – definitely separates educating ALL students.

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