Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Post-16 - an Answer to the Ultimate Question of Digital Literacy: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Post-16 - an Answer to the Ultimate Question of Digital Literacy: News

Article excerpt

Google HQ is the model for a new school in Paris, called 42.

For a country famed for its revolutionary spirit, France has a remarkably rigid and inflexible education system.

Highly centralised and government-controlled, French schools are good at imparting traditional knowledge but employers complain that they do little to instil into students the skills they need for the workplace.

This is especially true in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), where France, despite being a leading world economy, is fast falling behind its competitors. But now a new school in the heart of Paris is hoping to turn the tide by spearheading a digital revolution.

Founded by a billionaire, modelled on Google's headquarters and named after a line from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42 will open its doors to 1,000 students in the autumn.

Its mission is to train the "best talents of their generation" in the field of computer science. Its students, aged between 18 and 30, will be selected for the three-year course not on their academic ability but on their talent and motivation.

Neither will ability to pay be a factor; not only is studying at 42 free but the school is actively seeking talented students from the poorer suburbs of the capital.

The school is the brainchild of Xavier Niel, the billionaire founder of French broadband firm Iliad, who has ploughed EUR70 million (Pounds 60 million) into the scheme.

Its director is Nicolas Sadirac, a Stanford-educated computer scientist who has already set up a private computer science institution and who gained a measure of fame in the year 2000 for hacking into the website of the French prime minister to highlight its vulnerability.

Speaking to TES, Mr Sadirac said that the biggest single problem with the French education system is that it makes people fear change.

"When you ask young people what they want to do, 60 per cent say they want to work for the state, they want to have security," he said. "[The French system] is good at creating very disciplined people, but nowadays we need a new kind of people who are more creative and more able to withstand change or to adapt to new things."

Mr Sadirac, who has taught ICT for more than 25 years, said it is the field that is in most urgent need of change.

"Technology is changing much faster than education so we must totally change the way we teach. …

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