S'pore's first free computer science programme to be launched by 2022

People can expect to sign up for Singapore's first free and teacher-less computer science programme by next year.

Offered by French non-profit university Ecole 42 and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the course will be open to anyone aged 18 and above, regardless of their background in coding or mathematics. There will be no tuition fee payable.

Supported by SkillsFuture Singapore, the new programme - named 42 Singapore - aims to develop a pipeline of technology talent for the digital economy.

Instead of classroom-based lessons delivered by lecturers, students will learn tech skills in areas such as cyber security and network infrastructure at their own pace, advancing through project-based learning and gamification.

The first cohort of 150 students under the new programme in Singapore is expected to start by the end of next year, with recruitment done through one or more admission exercises a year, said SUTD in a statement yesterday.

Admissions at Ecole 42 schools are highly competitive, with applicants selected after an intensive four-week boot camp known as the "Piscine" - French for swimming pool.

Ecole 42, the brainchild of French businessman and billionaire Xavier Niel, opened in Paris in 2013 and has since grown to a network of 36 campuses worldwide.

At the signing of an agreement between the two universities yesterday, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said the programme's emphasis on aptitude and skill-based admission is in line with the spirit of new policies rolled out by the Ministry of Education.

"Since last year, the autonomous universities (in Singapore) have expanded their practice of aptitude-based admissions," he said.

"They are now relying less on academic grades, and more on other yardsticks of merit such as the interests and non-academic achievements of applicants, so that a more holistic range of aptitude and attributes can be considered."

The partnership with Ecole 42 has been in the making since November 2019, Mr Chan said. He lauded the curriculum for bringing together students of different backgrounds and equipping them with in-demand skills and industry knowledge via real-world projects.

He called for more of such innovative models of teaching to be applied to training in other sectors beyond the information and communications technology sector.

Highlighting that the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted cross-border exchanges, Mr Chan said he is looking forward to further discussions between France and Singapore on how to resume student exchanges and more avenues to preserve interaction between students and faculty.

Ambassador of France to Singapore Marc Abensour, who witnessed yesterday's signing of the agreement, said Singapore had about 500 students studying in France before the pandemic.

Reaffirming the longstanding relationship between the two countries in higher education, Mr Abensour called for closer collaboration in upskilling and reskilling their workforces.

Students at 42 Singapore will have access to workshops, events and competitions organised by the SUTD community. In its statement, SUTD said it is still seeking industrial partnerships to co-support the new programme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore's first free computer science programme to be launched by 2022'. Subscribe