According to a January 2019 report by The New York Times, a massive wave of students has recently flooded admissions to computer science majors in the United States. Tech school applicants are far outnumbering the number of seats available. Yet, new federal employment data suggests that 918,000 IT jobs will be left unfilled by the end of the current year. Even if computer science graduates have increased in number, CIOs around the world are having a hard time finding tech talent that is suitable for an increasingly specialized industry.
Even between the most academically qualified graduates, recruiters have identified a worrying misalignment between graduate know-how and the industry’s demands. While IT applications broaden and become far more complex, computer science curriculums are still based upon the same foundations and academic structures established decades ago. Furthermore, neither institutions nor faculty members are realistically able to keep up with the staggering changes and transform curricula accordingly, thus creating an educational chasm that widens year by year, what the experts call the tech skill gap.
Nicolas Sadirac, computer school developer
Nicolas Sadirac is the founder of many computer schools in France, and the designer of a novel teaching method that is booming worldwide. In Alex Beard’s book, Natural Born Learners, Nicolas Sadirac recalls going through the same struggle as present-day IT recruiters at his time as a teacher in French tech school EPITA. He says that his math student’s results “were awful” at first, but that this changed quickly once he decided to take on a different learning approach. Instead of forcing a traditional scheme, he encouraged groups of students to take on projects on their own, minimizing his presence as a teacher and involving pupils in real-world problems to solve. This new practice worked so well that, according to Sadirac, it helped reveal structural flaws in the traditional scholastic system, similar to the ones author Heather McGowan has talked about extensively.
« One of the major weakness with traditional education is that it trains people to replicate what the teacher is already doing, and that couldn’t be further from what we want to do, which is to train students to find solutions by themselves. »Nicolas Sadirac, in an interview for Pirelli.
Over three lustra, Epitech and Web@cadémie, his first educational ventures, helped him refine his methods. Then, seven years ago, he gained media attraction when Parisian school ‘42’ —the combined effort of Sadirac and French billionaire Xavier Niel— was launched. The news outlets were fascinated to report the story of a tuition-free computer science institution that dared to get rid of what are commonly known to be the foundations of any learning space: teachers, schedules and degrees.
To the awe of many, the school performed remarkably well. Recruiters repeatedly lauded the school’s alumni, stating that their approach to real-life problems was substantially more creative and efficient than other candidates. Reportedly, more than 90% of the school’s students have found jobs in high-level postings since its inception.
Notwithstanding its success, this project was only the test probe of a larger project Nicolas Sadirac had already set his mind to. In 2019, by the time ‘42’ had opened another campus in California and over a dozen affiliated schools in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, Sadirac engaged in a more ambitious venture: the 01 Edu System.
01 Edu, the teacherless school
Founded by Nicolas Sadirac and a team of collaborators last year, 01 expands the methods developed during his previous experiences and creates an entire educational system around them.
First and foremost, 01 students are not dependent on teacher transmission to acquire knowledge. Rather than only being taught the theory and technical knowledge behind computer science —like for most conventional schools— they have to solve problems through software engineering by participating in active pedagogy. The students, both as individuals and as a group, teach themselves. It is an effort in “collective intelligence” that uses project-based education and peer-learning as means to develop student collaboration and creativity.
« We become richer by exchanging together. The Chinese say ‘you give me an idea and I’ll give you an idea, that makes two ideas.” We are not losing our knowledge by sharing it to another. »Nicolas Sadirac, in an interview for WISE.
Even without faculty members, learning programs are well defined throughout the school’s 4-year course. While teachers in other computer science schools struggle to keep with the industry’s needs, an advanced 01 Edu System platform supplies new challenging assignments to students while tracking their performance. Moreover, the learning experience is gamified, encouraging -and often matching- the student’s motivation to learn.
The all-inclusive social model
While the US offers attractive options for IT enthusiasts —such as the University of Stanford, the MIT and Berkeley EECS among many others— admission processes may well be disadvantaging candidates who are already unrepresented in computer science —including women, African-Americans, Latinos and low-income, first-generation college students, according to the NYT article.
Moreover, tuition fees for computer science programs like the one in Berkeley —costing around $60 0000— are often restrictive for most students. A decade ago, coding bootcamps came to fill a more affordable education market, proposing 3 to 12-week training courses that have become increasingly popular among professionals and first-entry students. However, even in these schools, the admission fee can go up to $17 000 for limited learning modules.
Online coding platforms have flourished amid this situation, offering exercises and mobile apps development adapted as gamified interfaces. Because of its freemium nature, courses are generally limited to teaching programming syntax at a basic level, instead of dealing with more complex coding projects.
The 01 Edu System has managed to integrate many of these methods into its learning structure all while staying free and open to all backgrounds. Much like Elon Musk’s comments to CNBC —stating that he did not care if applicants to AI positions at Tesla were high school graduates or not— Sadirac has always valued student motivation over credentials. Entry to 01 schools is open to all ages and it is non-dependent of degrees nor previous programming knowledge. Candidates are instead selected through cognitive tests and an intensive 4-week coding program called the Piscine, where individual profiles are assessed and identified.
A radical learning shift
The Piscine (the Pool) method is Sadirac’s very own version of a coding bootcamp. It acts both as an introductory course and applicant filter; surviving one month in the Pool ensures that every student understands the basic programming tools they will need and that they will be able to perform in 01’s learning methods.
At the end of such period, each student is hired by affiliated tech firms for two years in which they will acquire professional experience but also become 01’s main income. Part of their two-year salary goes to pay out the school and helping funding two more 01’ schools to be built in the near future.
01 schools are set up faster and cheaper compared to common tech institutions. The system offers a feasible alternative for young students and professionals in developed and developing countries with tuition-free schools that can be created for a fraction of the expense a traditional computer science institute requires. Institutions from all around the world can adhere to this system through the label Zone 01, setting up an entire network of coding organizations under the same standard.
According to Nicolas Sadirac, the 01 Edu System is flexible enough to wander off the usual territories of computer-related subjects and take on many other disciplines.