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In the Country of Hope, to Sing, Canaries Must Have Degrees – The Importance of Competency-Based Education

Paul Vadas

Paul Vadas – Educational Consultant, Master Degree in political science from California State University Northridge, lecturer, professor, has worked for over 25 years as executive in Brazilian and U.S. higher education institutions.

Structuralism and the credentialism of the Brazilian culture are, in my view, the greatest barriers to creativity and innovation.

In Brazil, the process of formal education – structured, quantitative and bureaucratized, is more important than the qualitative competencies that the individual developed on his own, despite the opinion of the National Council of Education (CNE Opinion 29/2002, CP, MEC), which expressed the following with regards to competencies:
“The actual duration of higher education … for the student will depend on:
a) the desired professional profile of completion;
b) the methodology used by the educational establishment;
c) the professional competences already developed in other undergraduate or postgraduate courses;
d) the professional skills already developed in the labor market through evaluation by the school;
e) the skills acquired in other ways, such as in technical courses, in sequential courses in fields of knowledge, of different levels of comprehension, and even in work, which must be carefully evaluated by the school.

“Thus, the duration of the program may vary for different individuals, even if the program’s plan has a defined timetable”

The Opinion continues:
“The logic of competence is not only about school activities. What matters, essentially, is not what the school teaches, but rather what the learner learned in it or out of it. What counts, effectively, is the competencies developed.

“Skills developed in out-of-school activities, in the world of work and in the practice of citizenship should be constantly evaluated by the educational institution and used for the purpose of education, with a view to continuing education and continuous development of the capacity to learn and of learning to learn, with an increasing degree of intellectual autonomy.”

“The new emphasis proposed is for the result of learning and not simply for the act of teaching. Teaching activities should be evaluated by learning outcomes, in terms of the constitution of professional competencies. This means that in the new educational order proposed by the current Law (LDB), the right to teach is bounded and subordinated to the right to learn.”

The inference that can be made in relation to the proposal for the validation of competencies acquired informally, as well as the use of higher education programs, such as the sequential programs (Article 44, I of the LDB) and extension courses (Article 44, IV of LDB), is that the spatial/temporal barriers have been broken: the classroom is only one place of learning (important but not necessary or determinant) among countless others; and the workload refers to the program, not the student.

It is all very beautiful, in theory. In practice it’s nothing like that. In practice, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) remain tied to the classroom (including online) and to the predefined numbers of course/hours, with content that is often out of date in relation to the development of professional competencies, and which has little or nothing to do with the development of personal and social skills, but has everything to do with getting a paper at the end of the program: the diploma.

While in Brazil educational institutions are involved in Process Oriented Teaching (POT), in the United States several educational entities have already embraced the concept of Results Oriented Learning (ROL), evaluating and crediting competencies already developed by the apprentice, in function of the individual’s own talents, or in light of his/her experiences, or in relation to self-learning, putting into practice what Article 206, paragraph II of the Brazilian Constitution says: “freedom to learn, to teach, to research and think, and to develop art and knowledge.”

This ubiquitous learning can be well exemplified in the case of the skills demonstrated by young Alina Morse. In 2012, seven-year-old Alina Morse’s  father did not allow her to accept a lollipop because, as he explained, it was bad for her health. Curious, Alina wondered, “why not make a lollipop that is healthy.” Inquisitive, she went after the answer. Self-taught, for two years she searched the internet, interviewed doctors, dentists, and other health experts, and in the end developed a healthy lollipop. With the money she had saved during those two years, plus the additional money her father gave her, she took the seven thousand dollars accumulated and, at the age of nine, began to manufacture her lollipops: Zollipops.

Today, at the age of 13, she is a millionaire. She has signed a contract with Walmart, and other stores, to sell her lollipops. Businesswoman, she continues studying. She devotes a third of the day to business (with the help of her parents), a third to studies, and a third to have fun with her friends (see video on this example of self-learning at https://youtu.be/P_oyurRA9IA)

Regarding the importance of competencies, Alina clearly showed the importance of values ​​(concern about health impact), critical thinking (not accepting the status quo), curiosity (the search engine that sparked her efforts), self-learning (obviously she has learned how to learn), dedication (she did everything to arrive at the results), mentoring (parental support), focus on goals (she knew where she wanted to go), listening to others (interviews with experts),  innovation (she transformed an unhealthy product into a healthy one), self-confidence (she believed in herself), entrepreneurship (invested her savings with courage and determination), etc., etc.

When she was 7 years old, Alina did not wait in the hope that one day someone would make a healthy lollipop: she took the initiative and made it happen. She did not wait to finish her formal educational process to develop her knowledge: she took the initiative and learned on her own. She did not wait to complete her higher education to develop her business: she took the initiative and invested in what she believed. In short, it was her personal, social, and work skills (attitudes/values, knowledge and skills) that enabled her to develop her professional enterprise. It was not a university or a diploma. She proved that a canary to sing, does not need a diploma, just needs to have talent, dedication and opportunities.

Examples such as that of Alina abound in the history of humanity, of creations/inventions and innovations, proving that what drives progress is the competencies developed by each individual, expressed by their learning “developed in activities outside the school, in the world of work and in the practice of the citizen”(CNE Opinion 29/2002, CP, MEC), regardless of the age of the person, or whether or not he or she has taken courses in arbitrarily defined and structured, designed and denominated higher education modalities, such as” sequential courses “, “undergraduate courses,” ” postgraduate courses,”or “extension courses.” In real life, learning does not occur in predetermined blocks of sequenced structured courses, it happens continuously, ad hoc, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of whether it is formal or informal.

Entities such as the Kidpreneurs Academy (acronym for Children Entrepreneurs – kidpreneurs.com) prove that there is no “right age” to learn: in real life, learning does not happen in sequenced steps. It happens randomly and conditioned to the talents, interests, and desires of each one. Each individual has his/her own time and ways of learning. Inspiration and intuition do not come at pre-determined time or locations. This does not mean that formal education is not important and/or necessary. This means that in terms of education the individual is more important than the group. It is not the student who has to adapt to the school. It is the school that has to adapt to the student. The ideal is not one teacher for every fifteen students. The ideal is fifteen teachers for each student.

American visionary leaders are already working to disrupt traditional educational models and reinvent the system by creating models more appropriate to 21st century educational demands, such as Competency Based Education, more focused on learning outcomes than on learning processes. More focused on the individual than on groups of students grouped by age, all learning the same things at the same time, in the same place.

However, according to their own paradigms, and even with the massive use of new information technologies, they are still far from arriving at a model that allows for the real personalization of education. Even because, in the same way as Brazilian educational leaders, American educational leaders confuse individualization with personalization (theme for another article). But surely, by leaps and bounds, they will get there.

In Brazil, at a moment that I think is very important for Brazilian education, Finep, an organ of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC), at the request of ABMES, launched on October 2 a R$ 500 million (about US$120 million) fund to support innovation projects aimed at improving the quality of teaching. According to ABMES (http://www.abmes.org.br/noticias/detail/3030/finep-atende-solicitacao-da-abmes-e-lanca-financiamento-para-inovacao-nas-ies), the “support will be given, primarily, for Strategic Innovation Plans (PEI) submitted in one or more of the following thematic lines:
• Personalization of teaching;
• Active teaching methodologies;
• Digital educational resources for teaching and learning;
• Environments, strategies and processes that promote innovation”

Those who know me know that I do not have the habit of raising problems without having the solution formulated. I have developed an educational model that respects both CF/88 and LDB/96; guarantees the supply of Brazilian higher education demands with flexibility and, at the same time, pertinence and relevance to the demands of the individual, of society and of the job market; and goes directly to the PEI thematic lines listed above.

The time to wait is long past. It’s time to make it happen. I put myself at the disposal of anyone who is interested.

[email protected]

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Master of Arts in Political Science, California State University Northridge. Twenty five years experience in executive functions at Brazilian colleges and universities. Writer, lecturer. and consultant is, presently, educational editor for Brazil Monitor