What if you could attend a school without teachers, books, lesson plans or tuition fees? As crazy as the idea seems, a Paris-based information technology school, dubbed 42, has actually been offering the radical approach to train young students to become good programmers since 2013. Now, the revolutionary school is opening a 200,000sqft Silicon Valley-area campus in Fremont.
Founded by high-profile French telecom magnate and billionaire Xavier Niel, the school will open its doors in November and plans to grow to 10,000 students over the next five years. Based on the Paris model, Niel's new campus aims to offer free education in a country where total student loan debt has topped $1.3tn (£901m), based solely "on their talent and motivation" rather than one's financial status or educational degree.
"Studies in the United States are very expensive, blocking the way for many individuals to receive an education, find a well-paid job, and live the American dream," 42 said in a statement on 17 May. "42's mission is to undercover the talents of their generation in the field of programming and to do so on a broad scale. To achieve this, 42 would like to give all young people an opportunity."
The school's name itself comes from Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where the number 42 is the answer to "life, the universe and everything".
The school will include more than 1,000 iMac computers, high-speed internet, large-capacity storage servers and 300 dormitories, which it plans to increase to 600. The non-profit organisation does not require registration or tuition fees for the training that takes place over 3 to 5 years.
Anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 can apply to the school, whether they hold an academic degree or not. However, gaining entrance to 42 is considered harder than getting into Harvard and is kind of like the tech version of the Hunger Games.
After prospective students submit an application, they are then thrown into the piscine (which means "swimming pool" in French) for four weeks to see if they sink or swim while facing intensive coding and logic challenges. Only the best 1,000 students will be accepted into the programme.
Focusing on projects and peer-to-peer learning, the school does not have teachers but allows students to learn by themselves by solving problems and work at their own pace. They are also free to come and go as they please, day and night.
When French President François Hollande visited Paris' 42 with Xavier Niel, there were even students sleeping in the hallway. The Paris-based 42 currently has 2,500 students enrolled.
Niel, who is also the founder and major shareholder of the Iliad Group, will invest $100m of his own money to build the school's US branch.
Classes in 42's Fremont branch will begin in November.