Health & Education

New Tricks for an Old Dog


Addressing the problems in Mexico's education system is no easy task; however, the country has entered a new era thirsty for more widespread reforms. New policies are already starting to make a difference.

Mexico has always had room for improvement in its education system. Influences from socialism and the church have affected its development for decades. President Enrique Peño Nieto was elected after campaigning largely on a platform of education reform, with promise to rid the powerful teachers union of corruption and build a new, modern education system. Indeed, progress has been made; however, there is still a considerable uphill battle to be fought, with illegal salaries being paid, millions of dollars misused, and, detrimentally, students who are not benefitting.

Public schooling is compulsory in Mexico until age 18. Pre-primary education is available at age three, though it is not mandatory and is almost entirely privately funded. Elementary education is free and begins at age six, starting at grade one and ending with grade six. In some regions, learning a second language is required, so half of the day is taught in Spanish and the remainder in English, French, or a native language.

At age 12, students begin middle school, which encompasses grades seven to nine. In some areas, students can opt for telesecundaria, otherwise known as distance learning, which is offered entirely online. Compulsory high school only began recently, and it runs through the 12th grade. Students at this level have two options: a public schooling option with curriculum designed by the Ministry of Education, or university incorporated preparatory programs that are connected to a local university that also designs the curriculum. Though universities are located throughout the country, there is a low level of tertiary education. Only 45% of students complete high school, and only a quarter of those will go on to university.

According to the most recent World Bank statistics, government expenditure on education is 5.3% of GDP, or just over 19% of total government expenditure. The government spends the most on primary education, the most attended level of education, at 32.8% of total education spending. Next comes secondary, tertiary, and pre-primary education levels, with spending levels at 32%, 21.3%, and 10.4% of total education spending, respectively. The country has an adult literacy rate of 94%.
The net enrollment rate is 69% for pre-primary education and 95% for primary education, according to the World Bank. The World Bank also reports a primary completion rate of 105%; however, there are more than 340,000 out-of-school primary-aged children. Net enrollment for secondary education stands at 67%, though the figure for tertiary drops considerably to 30%.
Among OECD countries, Mexico ranks in the bottom five in reading performance, mathematics performance, and science performance, well below the OECD average. The country also has among the lowest levels of upper secondary and tertiary education within the OECD.

The country is working on addressing several key issues that it hopes will bring about much-needed improvements. These include finding ways to increase student performance as well as completion of compulsory education. The government is working to increase success by catering to students who come from a diverse array of backgrounds. Among the institutions themselves, the country is working on revising evaluation methods, specifically in terms of student assessment and teacher success. Raising the quality of teaching as well as professionalizing teachers are of key importance.

TBY recently talked with Enrique Cabrero Mendoza, the Director of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), who talked about the befits recent education reforms have already had on the nation’s education system. “[The government has] made great decisions,” Mendoza said. “The reform of the education system has been extremely important; dual education has been gradually implemented into the secondary system and has had an important impact on the training of technicians, both in polytechnic and technological universities. They are now able to establish these mechanisms widely used in Italy, Germany, and France, where part of a student’s day happens in a company and the other part in the classroom. Both the industrial sector and educational institutions are quickly valuing the effects.”