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Teaching IT in an innovative way isn’t simple

Korea’s government has the will, but that may not be enough

Dec 31,2018
Students at the IT institution 42 in Paris work on their project. [42]
Paris’ 17th arrondissement is home to 42, an institution dedicated to developing IT talent. 42 has no professors and no graduation certificate. There are no semesters and no check on attendance. Students can stay as long as they want at an institution that is open 24/7.

They train in IT skills - whether it is artificial intelligence or the Internet of Things (IoT) - through an educational development program stored on the institution’s cloud.

42 has even refused funding from the government. In meeting with the JoongAng Ilbo in Paris last year, 42 founder Xavier Niel said that when government funding is involved, it becomes difficult to experiment in innovative education.

He recalled that when Francois Hollande was president of France, he visited the institution and students were seen sleeping here and there.

In April 2017, Seoul National University, Korea’s top ranking university, opened up a fourth industrial revolution academy offering four courses: on big data platforms, big data analysis, artificial intelligence and fintech.

Recently, the school considered closing all of the courses except for the one on fintech. The experimental approach to education failed - largely because the Labor and Employment Ministry’s vocational training regulations were applied.

Inspired by 42, the school was hoping to skip attendance checks. But that goes against the regulations and the academy couldn’t violate them because it was funded by the government.

When the academy printed more books than there were students, the government started an audit on its printing expenses.

“It wasn’t easy to manage since the government, which should have left it all to the academy, was digging its fingers into everything,” said one of the faculty that helped found of the academy.

While the government on Dec. 26 announced a different plan to create an innovation academy modeled after 42, the local IT industry’s response was understandably lukewarm.

While IT experts welcomed the enthusiasm, they argue that only when regulations are totally lifted will such a training institution be a success.

The government’s so-called Innovation Academy has benchmarked many of the practices of 42.

There will be no textbook or faculty, and the students won’t have to pay for tuition, which is entirely covered by the government.

Students hoping to join the school will not be questioned about their major, past experience or even nationality.

And there will be no graduation certificate when they finish the program.

The students will be trained in fields that IT companies need, including artificial intelligence and big data.

But experts say copying 42 doesn’t guarantee similar success in Korea.

Some say that a government can’t make something like 42, which was founded by Xavier Niel, who owns the French broadband internet provider Iliad. Free Mobile, a wireless service provider owned by Illad, was the last among France’s four mobile networks. As a latecomer, the company needed a service that was different from existing players.

This was the reason for the founding of 42.

As the company needed talents that could quickly adapt to a changing IT ecosystem, the institution refused regulations usually applied to public education.

IT companies also need employees with the coding ability that can be used in the field immediately rather than diplomas from high ranking schools.

So 42 was created to provide the kind of education system the private IT sector wanted - not to satisfy the needs of a government.

Olivier Crouzet, 42’s pedagogy director, said one out of every three students at the institution has abilities that can be used immediately in the field.

The government plans to invest 35 billion won ($31.3 million) next year on the academy and a total of 180.6 billion won by 2023.

As the institution will be run on taxpayer’s money, it will inevitably be under the microscope of the National Assembly and the Board of Audit and Inspection.

The Ministry of Science and ICT said it plans on outsourcing the management of the institution to a private operator.

However, some say the Science Ministry will likely also face obstacles such as existing regulations and other government departments.

“Despite its good intentions, if it is once tied to vocational training regulations and a government budget, the experience in fostering innovative talents may be difficult,” said Professor Cha Sang-kyun, director of Seoul National University’s Big Data Institute.


BY KIM DO-NYUN [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]


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