The answer to free, peer-to-peer IT courses and everything? For France, it's 42

After having shaken up France's mobile market, Xavier Niel is aiming to do the same with a new school offering free tuition but no diploma to thousands of students.
Written by Valéry Marchive, Contributor
42 will be based at the Heart of Code building (artist's impression above) in Paris. Image: 42

Xavier Niel, founder of the French mobile operator Free, unveiled a new project on Tuesday: a free, "peer-to-peer" school for would-be techies.

The school, named 42 after Douglas Adams' sci-fi classic, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will train 1,000 young people each year in IT skills including software development, network administration and security – all without charging tuition fees.

And no diploma will be needed to get in to 42: instead would-be pupils, aged between 18 and 30, will have to demonstrate their abilities through online tests.

According to Niel, "the current system produces cookie-cutter professionals. And in the meantime, 200,000 young people leave that system every year without a diploma. As a result, France is ranked 20th [globally] for digital skills. We need to revolutionise the way we teach." With 42, he claims to be offering "a new paradigm, something new that doesn't look like a school." 

 So much so in fact, it won't provide any diploma recognised by French or European institutions.

42 will be lead by three former executives from the Epitech IT school. One of them, Nicolas Sadirac, claims that "knowledge doesn’t matter anymore as information is now available online. What matters is to know how you use that knowledge." The schools will offer project-based learning using methods used by businesses." 

The school will offer "community teaching, where students continually learn from others and actively participate in others' learning, evaluating each other and allowing individuals' capacities to improve those of the whole: it's peer-to-peer learning," according to its site.

The school will be funded by Neil, who has already invested €20m in the project and plans to add €50m to that over the next ten years. 

Ionis Education Group, which manages Epita, Epitech and Etna schools, notes with tongue in cheek that it's "happy to see the fundamental principles of [42] were created and implemented at Epita and Epitech a long time ago."

But Laurent Baudart, secretary general of the trade association Syntec Numérique,  appreciates the arrival of 42: "every initiative in this area, aimed at training and helping young people to find a job, should be welcomed, especially in a market that's recruiting. We're rather satisfied with this kind of initiative."

Locaux 42 par 42Born2Code

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