No teachers, no academic prerequisites: SUTD challenges traditional learning with new ICT course

SUTD is offering a new programme from September that aims to develop students’ technical and soft skills needed for the tech industry. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Imagine a university programme that does not require any academic prerequisites and has no teachers or structured lessons.

That is precisely what the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) is offering - a unique and inclusive skills-based pathway for students to acquire and hone information and communications technology (ICT) skills.

Dubbed “42 Singapore” (42 SG), the programme, which is free, uses a peer-learning approach and offers full hands-on, project-based learning in a gamified environment.

The aim is for students to develop the technical and soft skills required for the tech industry.

SUTD hopes to enrol 150 students in the programme by September 2023.

42 SG offers modules in the fields of coding, computer programming, cyber security, network infrastructure, data science and more.

It is open to anyone above 18 years old – and for Singapore males, those who have completed national service – regardless of academic qualifications.

42 SG is a full-time study course that requires about 40 hours a week to complete. The first year will be for the core programme, and the subsequent two years for specialisation.

That said, prospective students must be prepared to undergo a rigorous two-tier selection process to be accepted into the programme.

The first is a two-hour memory and logic test that does not require any coding knowledge.

The second, called “The Piscine” (French for swimming pool), will test prospective students’ determination and desire for 26 days, as they do basic coding and learn collaboratively with other “Pisciners” by completing projects and evaluations.

The SUTD academic team in charge says that the selection process is essential, to ensure a baseline of perseverance and resilience for students to be successful in the programme.

42 SG is modelled after Ecole 42 in Paris, a pioneering school in peer-to-peer pedagogy that was founded in 2013.

The adoption of the French school’s pedagogy ensures that students at 42 SG benefit from the same teaching methods and philosophy that have made Ecole 42 – which now has a network of 47 campuses in 26 countries with more than 15,000 active students – successful.

The two fundamental values that anchor the school are social inclusion and equal chances.

Hence, supported by SkillsFuture Singapore and a donation of $600,000 from 42 SG’s industry partner foodpanda, the programme charges no tuition fees so that financially disadvantaged groups can access it.

It also caters to students who may be constrained by mainstream education pathways, but still desire an ICT education.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, SUTD provost Phoon Kok Kwang said that the gamification aspect of the programme incentivises students to be self-directed in their learning.

It also allows them to connect with fellow course mates, the same way gamers often connect with other players on gaming platforms when on a mission.

Professor Phoon is confident that the peer-to-peer learning pedagogy, a key feature of the programme, is an effective way for students to learn.

“One of the best ways you can learn is by teaching people,” he said.

“So the whole system is designed for human-to-human interaction, because we want to produce the kind of workforce that can work in the real world. And, of course, teamwork and communication are key.”

42 SG began accepting applications in March, and the programme will start in September.

ST spoke to two 42 SG students who come from different walks of life and joined the programme for different reasons.

Mr Eugene Law, 33, graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He co-founded a start-up company in the field of relationship wellness.

He was attracted to the programme because of its unique collaborative learning format and the opportunity to upskill.

“42 SG mimics the current reality and the situation on how people actually learn, compared with the days in school, which were more lecture-based,” he said.

“It is a more accurate reflection of how I learn after I graduated.”

Ms Chloe Pang, 20, graduated from Republic Polytechnic in May with a diploma in industrial and operations management and international business.

As a budding entrepreneur, she feels that the 42 SG programme will strengthen her self-discipline and the spirit of not giving up.

She is also looking forward to building her coding skills. This, she said, will help her develop her business, which is related to education technology and requires heavy coding.

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