École 42 is an interesting experiment for a number of reasons. First of all, it is a European innovation, a French one to be more precise, that only recently opened its doors in California. Secondly – but it is actually the most innovative factor – it is a teacher-less school. The result is something unlike any other school in France, or elsewhere. How is that possible?
The plan is Xavier Niel’s idea, founder of Free, the second biggest internet provider in France, and serial entrepreneur, always looking for the best and smartest talents. In 2013, while not being able to find the resources he needed, he pointed the finger at the French school system, disfunctional in his opinion because it was not democratic and discriminating to the poorer students. This is why he was determined to create a “container” that could teach students to develop the abilities they needed, in complete autonomy.
At 8:42 every morning, students get digital projects to complete. They have 48 hours to complete them, so they are always juggling various projects, sort of like in real life. Since there are no teachers, it is up to students to sort things out and grade each other, becoming capable of managing their time and working in team. It is totally self-organised.
From an educational point of view, the project is undoubtedly disruptive, an innovative development in an unknown path. The admission test evaluates the logical and creative capacities, regardless of previous skills or wealth. Yes, that’s right, Ecole 42 is completely free. The aim for this decision is to broaden the ground for merit, only discriminating for the best capacities.
As many noses would turn in skepticism, the figures are crystal clear: 80% of students are employed before finishing the course, 100% are employed afterwards.
What to do with our university, then? Should we change everything and create dozens of École 42-like schools in Italy as well? The answer is no, of course, because that would solve none of our real problems (the mismatch between school and business being among them). It would be better to transform our current paths into leaner ones. Making them versatile and adaptable, inclusive and still anchored to a solid education, capable of shaping new specialised professionals who can also speak the languages of different disciplines: computer science with management, social science with psychology, technology with the humanities.
Educating the cartographers of tomorrow, people who are trained to work in different contexts and prone to change and adaptation: that is the purpose of education in the age of “liquid modernity”, as the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman put it.
School, as well as university, should not educate “liquid” people and professionals, rather versatile and agile people. Tech-friendly, but still humans. Specialised, as well as generalists.
Experts say that there will be more changes in the next 20 years than in the past three centuries. Such a speed of change requires as much capacity to act. Only by training our young boys and girls to this pace will they be able to control the upcoming change.
Whether projects like École 42 will bloom or fail, only time will tell. What we can tell now, though, is that what is going to win today is the capacity to manage and lead a conscius transformation.