Student blog: Mexico’s education reform limited in scope, lacks teacher support

In early 2013, Mexico’s three top parties launched the Pact for Mexico, an agreement consisting of reforms to Mexico’s energy sector, political and financial systems, security forces, and education system, among others. Reforming Mexico’s education system—one of the lowest ranked in the OECD according to 2012 PISA results—is vital to the long-term success of the other reforms. It is also key to increasing the productivity and competitiveness of Mexico’s workforce overall (Hanushek and Woessmann, 2008). The education reform focuses on evaluations for teachers, though it also includes initiatives for expanding education access and for the creation of a financial aid system for higher education students. Despite these initiatives and the important role they play in the Pact for Mexico, the education reform will remain limited by its narrow scope and intense opposition from teachers.

The reform has created the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE) to design and administer teacher evaluations. If teachers do not pass the evaluation in three tries during a two-year period, they will be dismissed or transferred to an administrative position (Vázquez and Goodman, 2013). Other reform goals include establishing longer school days, providing portable computers to elementary school students, improving training for teachers, and increasing access to high school and college. The reform also establishes a national scholarship program that will lead to a national financial aid system for higher education students. It will focus on the 40 percent of students and families with the least financial resources, and mandates experimenting with different systems in order to find one that can be efficiently and effectively applied to the rest of the country (Presidencia de la República).

The reform, however, leaves many issues unresolved. One of them is fairly large class sizes. Additionally, many Mexican schools, particularly in poorer regions, as in the South, lack basic infrastructure such as electricity and accessible roads. A teacher dissatisfied with the reform has said “They want to send Enciclomedia (a digital learning program) to a community where there is no electricity. How will that work?” (Vázquez and Goodman, 2013). Another important issue the education reform fails to address is the quality of the curricula and how students from different cultures and regions throughout the country may or may not relate to them. This is particularly important in southern Mexico, where many are of indigenous descent and their culture may be very different from mainstream Mexican culture. Assuming that students from such backgrounds are proficient in Spanish, curricula that do not relate to their lives or to experiences will help them learn.

Additionally, the reform fails to address the fact that many Mexican teachers strongly oppose reforms because they view it as an attack on their labor rights. According to another dissatisfied teacher “educational reform would be structural and related to the curriculum, and would be directly related to the students” (Vázquez and Goodman, 2013). Mexican teachers are also angry because they feel that the federal government is trying to control the education system in a very centralized, top-down manner, when it should instead let the teachers and schools decide what is best for students and their circumstances. They are also troubled that the federal government is designing and enacting education reform without their input, especially in light of how the reform portrays them as the primary cause of the education system’s failures, and how their evaluations will be designed by a federal agency with no input from teachers or consideration for their difficult working conditions.

Education reform is an important aspect of the Pact for Mexico, but it is not enough to fix Mexico’s broken education system. The reform shifts the responsibility for the system’s failures onto the teachers and misses the opportunity to address the more fundamental obstacles to the system’s progress. For example, while teacher quality is important, the Mexican government must also acknowledge and act on its responsibility to ensure that the education system is accessible to everyone, that its curricula do not marginalize anyone from different cultures within the country, and that the schools and teachers have all of the resources and infrastructure they need to teach their students effectively. Only then will Mexico’s education system be truly able to improve and prepare Mexico’s youth to take their place in their country’s future.

Raúl DeLira is an intern for the Baker Institute Mexico Center. He is a sophomore at Rice University majoring in economics and Latin American studies.