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The Meanings of the Words Student and Educator

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Ronaldo Mota, Member of the Board of the Presidency of ABMES, Chancellor of the Estácio Group

The word “student” comes from the Latin alumnus, meaning, literally, breastfed or one who feeds on milk. In other words, an intellectual infant or a disciple. Alumnus or alumni from the verb alere, which in Latin means to feed, sustain, nourish or grow.
Erroneously, some texts treat the word “student” as being the junction of the Greek prefix a, which would correspond to absent or without, and the suffix luno, derived from the Latin word lumni, meaning light. Therefore, in the incorrect version, student would be the one without light or without knowledge. The false etymology above is less innocent than it seems. It is a misunderstanding that has found fertile ground in those who see the student as someone more passive in the educational process. In treating it as without light, one runs the risk of ending by transforming into fact something that was, at first, just a simple etymological confusion.

There is also a complementary subtlety, not so obvious, associated with the possible distinction between student and learner. Although they are not rigid concepts, one tends to use the term student to designate one who practices the activity of attending the class; as a learner refers to one who practices the activity of studying. In the first case it is essentially a collective activity and, predominantly, passive; in the second, it is fundamentally of a more individual character and due to a necessarily active position.
As for the “educator,” it is normal to be treated indiscriminately as a “teacher,” even if they do not mean exactly the same thing. Teacher is, in simplified form, the professional who teaches a science, an art, a technique, a discipline. Educator, in turn, transcends the described activities, having as inherent responsibility the integral formation of the student. The term “educator” comes from the Latin word educatore, the one that creates or nourishes. Every educator is necessarily a teacher, without necessarily the opposite being true.
Education, in the same way, differs from teaching. The physicist Alberto Einstein, who died in the middle of the last century, opted to express this distinction in the form: “education is what remains after forgetting what has been taught or learned.” In this sense, education is an act that involves the human being holistically, contemplating all its aspects, whether physical, cognitive or metacognitive. In this perspective, the student is understood as a being endowed with knowledge, qualities and potentialities, to whom the educator is not restricted to pass on the content of his discipline, but rather to emancipate him as he is able to learn continuously and permanently throughout life.
It is possible to have a vision by which the educator, himself a subject in a constant learning process, differs from the traditional teacher, avoiding considering himself the owner of knowledge and the only active part of the educational process. The educator is able to build, along with his students, a dynamic learning in which the possible errors of the learner make up a fundamental basis for reflections and educational advances.
The above distinctions deal with differences that are neither simple nor watertight because they are parts of complex processes. What we do know is that, in the contemporary world, traditional education is moving towards a flexible, permanent, hybrid education. In this context, the most appropriate concepts about the student and the educator will gain clearer meanings as education becomes less routine or repetitive and progressively becomes activity closer to art, demanding ever-evolving creation.