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Students are Partners, Not Consumers

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Ronaldo Mota, Chancellor of Estacio Group

Understanding learners as partners and co-creators of a complex process, not as simple customers or consumers, goes far beyond a commercial, ethical, or moral issue. It is essentially an educational issue. From how we see our students, we must establish, in coherence with the contemporary world, appropriate approaches and methodologies.

There was a period, in the near past, where the school could be seen, in short, as a space for the transfer of information or knowledge. The teacher had the fundamental, if not exclusive, task of passing on to the learners a set of contents, some standard procedures and certain well-defined techniques. Once the assignments had been completed, the student, if he/she had proved adequate mastery, would be approved and the educational institution would seal each step of the process, via a diploma or a certificate.

The great novelty of modern times is that digital technologies abruptly invaded all sectors of society, including the universe of education. Information is fully accessible, immediately available and basically free. A school or a teacher who is now confined to the task of simply transferring information runs the risk of becoming innocuous, being subject to disappearance, for lack of purpose, very quickly.

Professionals from traditional teaching, based on memory and simple domain of procedures and techniques, are the main targets of the automation processes and learning machines. Automation, in this case, refers to the replacement of human labor by robots that meet algorithms. Machine learning, in turn, further enhances automation, allowing it to go beyond repetitive and mechanical tasks. Thus, machines can contemplate increasingly complex missions, based on learning by analysis of errors. That is, from the availability and treatment of abundant data, artificial intelligence allows to create new algorithms that evolve and that are continuously improved.

As evidenced by the seriousness of the present context, in the recent work of the Machine Learning Laboratory in Finance and Organizations at the University of Brasilia, 2,602 formal occupations in Brazil were analyzed in light of the risks arising from automation. Among the workers currently with signed portfolios, more than half of them, some 25 million, occupy positions with a high probability of being negatively affected in the coming years.

Educationally, the only way to address these challenges is by promoting learning that enables those who are coming to the market to go beyond the shallower jobs, avoiding their substitutions by robots. The appropriate pedagogical approach to prepare a professional or citizen for more complex tasks is one that transcends simple memorization processes, going far beyond the slight absorption of procedures and techniques. It is critical that the student, throughout the learning, reflect, understand and deepen on how he learns. Being a conscious actor of his own educational process, the learner continually extends his capacity for lifelong learning. In addition, it is essential to encourage the collaborative processes between colleagues, both face-to-face and virtual, in the achievement of missions and projects as a team.

From this perspective, the student is more than ever a co-creator and a partner in the educational dynamics involved. Therefore, the student is quite distant from the passive figure of a consumer who individually and individually acquires a product or a service. Building these new methodologies and linking them to existing technologies, as well as the multiple possibilities that are still being created, is the greatest contemporary educational challenge.