Morocco’s “School for Geeks” Is Attracting New Students in Droves

Students at Ecole 1337 in Morocco

No educators, no classes, no fees, open 24/7… It’s not difficult to understand why École 1337 –short for Treize-Trente-Sept – sounds so appealing to a growing generation of computer engineers, programmers and developers. Hundreds of young people complete a free, three-to-five-year course here. Founded in 2018, the first 1337 alumni are set to graduate next year.


The pioneering educational approach is based on the principle of peer learning. The term “peer” refers to a group of learners with more or less the same knowledge level and learning discipline. Students share their knowledge and challenge each other to attain specific educational goals.

In reality, different people can work on the same challenge or project and construct the answer by working together. A peer learning environment provides knowledge as-and-when the learner needs it. It’s seen as a process that is extended over time and follows the learner’s learning pace.

The idea is all but new. Already in 1916, John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, wrote “Education is not an affair of telling and being told, but an active and constructive process.” Later, he further detailed how knowledge is created through experience, rather than passed from educator to learner through a process of rote memorization.

Two Campuses and Growing

École 1337 was established in 2018, when Morocco’s phosphate giant OCP converted a disused factory in the Moroccan mining town Khouribga to accommodate “the engineers of tomorrow”. Khouribga is located about 120 km from Casablanca and 154 km from the capital Rabat. In June 2019, 1337 opened a second campus in Ben Guérir, near Marrakech.

Education at 1337 is completely free of charge and there is no pre-requisite diploma required. Anyone between 18 and 30 years of age can apply. The online admission test takes approximately 2 hours. Once a candidate passes this test, they are invited to the campus for a check-in and a 4-week immersion in the world of coding (called “la piscine” or the swimming pool). A typical journey at 1337 can take from 3 to 5 years.

École 1337 also has a pedagogical partnership with 42, a tuition-free computer programming school network created by French billionaire Xavier Niel and partners. He funded the running costs for the first 10 years of the school’s operation. 42 opened in Paris in 2013 and also has a campus in the US and one in Armenia. Its model, however, has been adopted all over the world. Moreover, the approach of 42 has been endorsed by many high-profile people from Silicon Valley, including the co-founders of Snapchat, Slack, Airbnb, Nest Labs, Twitter and many more.

The Future Is Loading…

The approach is very hands-on. École 1337 is open 24/7. Students can come and go at any time during the day or night, including on weekends and during holidays. Only by joining forces can their learning journey be a success. The idea is that the way challenges are set (through gamification) and the collaboration with peers will keep everyone going. Each learning trajectory is broken into 17 professional skills. Assessments are done by peers, not teachers.

“1337 is an innovative model that gives young people the opportunity to really find their way, without any formalism, but in trusting their creativity, initiative and determination”, said H.E. Dr Saïd Amzazi, the Moroccan Minister of Education and Scientific Research just last week. “I was truly impressed by the quality of the team behind this project.”

In Morocco, about 8,000 computer engineers graduate every year. Yet this is by far not enough to meet demand, especially not when so many of them move abroad, attracted by a different lifestyle and a higher salary. Currently, around 300 students attend 1337’s Khouribga campus and nearly as many have joined the Ben Guerir campus. The two campuses together can house about 1,800 students. At the moment, approximately 10% of 1337’s students are female.

What Does 1337 Stand For?

13 37, pronounced Treize, Trente-Sept (French for Thirteen, Thirty-Seven) comes from eleet or leetspeak. This is a special language that uses character replacements that are graphically adjacent to usual characters. For example, the number 5 replaces the letter S, the number 7 stands for the letter T. Thus, the L in “leet” is translated into a 1, the E into a 3, a T into 7, etc.

The term leet or eleet is derived from the word “elite”. A word that was once used to identify “elite computer nerds” in the early days of the internet. Nowadays, there are many dialects or linguistic varieties of leetspeak, depending on the online community. While the purest form of leetspeak primarily uses numbers, modern variants allow special characters. Ultra 1337 uses only special characters and thus is extremely difficult to read.

Some users say eleet is no longer relevant to modern internet conversations. Others state that different forms of leetspeak continue to be used to encrypt communication. Mostly, because it’s a language that is quickly understood by certain groups of people, but often illegible to outsiders and machines. Mainstream variants are, for example, @$$ and $#!+, pr0n, or w00t.

IT communication specialist
Sandra has many years of experience in the IT and tech sector as a communication specialist. She's also been co-director of a company specializing in IT, editorial services and communications project management. For she follows relevant cybercrime and online privacy developments.