21ST CENTURY EDUCATORS - INTERVIEW WITH FERNANDO MESQUITA

Education in Brazil is going through an internationalization process. Several universities have intensified partnerships and exchange programs with foreign institutions allowing undergraduate and graduate students to experience different educational models.

Fernando Mesquita, a psycho-pedagogue, master in education and a specialist in educational leadership (McGill University) is currently researching about digital citizenship in school curriculums. He is also educational administrator of the International College of Curitiba, a school that has stood out by investing in teacher training based on experiences with the students in the classroom and highly guided by practice.

In an CER interview, he talks about the new education scenario from the educators point of view and the challenges of a qualified continuing education, which incorporates the 21st century required skills

1- What are the main challenges faced by teachers nowadays since students have access to a multitude of resources and information?

I would say that teacher’s challenge is to resignify his role in classroom. With the wide access to new information and communication technologies, his main function is to be a lifelong learner model, an eternal researcher of his practice, of his students, of the school subject and education in general. Therefore, teachers assignment in the present time is to teach ‘learn how to learn’, so that the student achieve the intellectual autonomy. Just offer answers to students questions no longer suits to today’s education demands.

To prepare his students for the modern challenges, the teacher must be curious, connected and eager for learning more. Students need to feel excited for building knowledge and skills in a relevant context, equipped to explore their own questions and be familiar with problem-solving processes.

2 – Much is said about the skills for 21st century students such as autonomy, creativity, innovation capacity, systemic thinking, among others. These skills fit a job market under constant transformation. As for educators, what skills and behavior are required them to have?

First of all, the abilities of researching and planning experiences that maximize each students’ learning process, and a deep knowledge of the learning sciences. In another time, it was all about class control and mastery of the subjects through authority and knowledge. Today, the teacher needs to find other ways to stimulate students intellectually. Coercion and passivity no longer adapt in a classroom that aims to encourage students to be autonomous, entrepreneurs and leaders. Within this context, the teacher needs to perceive knowledge gaps, providing constructive feedback that create positive change, correcting misinterpreted concepts and combining learning experiences. Being a guide and a motivator, pointing out more paths to be followed so that each student reaches the maximum of his potential.

Doing all that is very challenging and puts makes teachers in vulnerable at times. Some may feel that they are not doing their job well unless they expose all their knowledge during class. Brazilian schools need to offer innovative formative processes so that their teachers become familiar with the advances in educational research and gain practical experiences with effective pedagogical models.

3- Which teaching methodologies and pedagogical practices have been used to offer education that develops the entrepreneurial mindset of students?

One of the major models that has been guiding new practices is a combination between inquiry based learning and project based learning. These approaches explore curiosity with contextualized classes, students work on self-generated questions. They receive teachers guidance to find resources and interpreting information, collaborating with colleagues on projects, testing hypotheses, designing models and products to understand the issues. At the end of the process, students develop a conclusive report and a real demonstration of the project. This is an example of an active methodology that puts the teacher as a guide and molder of creativity and problem solving.

To develop an entrepreneurial mindset we need to create students who are not afraid of taking risks, who know how to structure projects and have confidence in their creative potential. For these reasons, we need models that offer students autonomy to explore their issues and projects. As the poet Rubem Alves used to say, there are schools that are cages and there are schools that are wings. We need to give young people wings by working with active approaches and methods. Only then they will be prepared to become leaders and entrepreneurs in an uncertain future.

4 – How other countries are dealing with the challenge of preparing educators for a new education model and promote a continuous quality training?

Countries with high levels in PISA (International Program for Student Assessment) have policies to empower teachers even before they start at classrooms as professionals. They receive an initial training with a great emphasis on practice, accompanied by very experienced tutors within the classroom – they experience an education focused on real students and not on ideal students. They analyze issues just as doctors and lawyers who work on solving practice problems of their job, and are trained to measure their impact on student learning. Focusing on learning outcomes helps teachers to see teaching as a work with learners rather than with subjects, curriculum, or disciplines.

5 – What about Brazil, which cases, examples or practices stand out in the current scenario?

Education in Brazil is going through an internationalization process. Several universities have intensified partnerships and exchange programs with foreign institutions allowing undergraduate and graduate students to experience different educational models. Many basic education schools in Brazil are also internationalizing through bilingual and international pedagogical proposals. All this movement makes professionals and institutions look for the best practices, read about advances in educational research and get inspiration from other models, adapting these innovations to local realities.

In 2017/2018, some of primary and secondary schools didactic materials already emphasize the development of socio-emotional competences, which is a great achievement. In Brazil, education vision is more holistic and embrace important dimensions. Teacher-oriented publications points advances in learning science and the importance of working with active methodologies to develop creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

In the International Curitiba School for example, there is an innovative work in the Brazilian studies department, where teachers study neuroscience research and develop classes that respect the students learning rhythm. They challenge students with high expectations and offer multiple opportunities for them to demonstrate learning. At the same time, they emphasize projects, the importance of socio-emotional skills, stimulate systemic thinking and academic research. It is not unusual to find some education innovator center in Brazil. Schools that value and invest in continuing teacher training will be the new role model. After all, teachers are the main agents for a change in schools, so we need to value and support them.

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