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Yoloxochitl Bustamante Diez

MEXICO - Health & Education

Changing Mentalities

Director General, the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN)

Bio

Yoloxochitl Bustamante Diez is a graduate in Biological Sciences and has held various academic and administrative positions in and outside the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN). She was sworn in as Director General of IPN in 2009. Prior to this, she served as Secretary of School Education at the Ministry of Education.

"Innovation is key to being successful in this field. Each teacher has to find strategies to work with all of the students."

How are local universities like the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) attempting to connect the provision of higher education to the country’s industrial development needs?

The IPN was founded in 1936 and emerged from several other schools that existed at that time. The idea was to obtain a synergy that would produce a new institution that was better than those that existed before. The institution was also founded with industrial applications in mind. As a result, we have prepared people to take on the main industrial and economic challenges in the country. At that time, we also covered health and biological aspects that the country needed for the progress of society. We took into consideration that the people coming into the institution would be from the lower-income strata. This is a public school without tuition fees. That permits people without economic mobility to study and gain opportunities to progress. We also prepare people for the specific economic challenges the country faces. Our activity is divided into three main areas: the first is mathematics, physics, and engineering; the second is medical and biological sciences; and the third is economic and administrative sciences. We have 85 different programs for students, and work with other institutes that are complementary to our activities. Most of the employees that are now working in the oil industry are from our institution. Graduates of this institution are involved in building all kinds of infrastructure, including power lines. We have now been working on changing the institution since 2002 through an academic reform project. We reviewed all of the processes that were in operation in terms of academic and social integration. The idea is that the institution maintains a deep interaction with all parts of society. We reviewed the academic model to have the learning processes more centered on the student. Under the new model, the professors function more as guides than traditional teachers. This new model has led to an important change in this institution. This process could not have been put into place without the participation of the teachers, and programs were also put in place to prepare them.

How have you been bringing innovation to the Mexican educational market through the development of unique course offerings?

Innovation is key to being successful in this field. Each teacher has to find different strategies to work with all of the students. This is also happening in some countries in Europe. It is different from what we regularly see in the education sector in Mexico. As a result, we are focusing on that area of innovation. We are also making some innovations in the way we work with society. For example, we have several incubation centers.

“Innovation is key to being successful in this field. Each teacher has to find strategies to work with all of the students.”

Has access to high-quality and well-recognized tertiary education establishments been improving in Mexico?

The main problem in Mexico is the lack of quality in basic education. Even these days, students are simply used to memorization. As a result, they lack the capacity to learn in unique ways. When they arrive, we have to a work on those other cognitive mechanisms and teach them how to use other abilities. That is an enormous problem in a country where 12 million children are enrolled in basic education. To change the mentalities of teachers that are attending those students is very hard. That is our greatest challenge. If we can change this system, we will not have to waste time recovering those abilities when students first join us. We also need to offer more places of study; this is a critical problem in Mexico. The most prestigious private institutions are very expensive for the majority of the population. As a result, people don’t have any other choice than to attend public institutions. We need to increase coverage for those people. First we need to create space, and then improve quality.

Is more competition in the private sector helping the public sector in terms of a better education offering across the board in Mexico?

Yes. There are some private institutions in Mexico that are working offshore and US intuitions that have the agreements and the modality of those institutions in Mexico. This allows them to offer attractive packages. As I understand, around 30% of people studying are in private institutions and 70% are in public institutions. Private education is just fine if the quality is high. Sometimes, this is not how it is. The Ministry of Education also has a difficult time working to control quality due to the bilingual nature of these institutions, which is generally their main offering. However, in the rest of the way that they work, there is no quality. Sometimes, even their English education is bad.

How are you expanding your course offerings, and where do the needs lie?

We are generating new programs so that we can make a more diversified contribution to the economy as well as areas of research and innovation. I would say that there is a need for interdisciplinary areas. It is now more evident that the areas that cover a single field are less attractive because real life shows that the interaction between several specialties is more productive. We are working more in mechatronics. That is growing more intensively in the country. There is also the combination of biotechnology technology with medical technology. As a result, we are covering these different fields in an interdisciplinary way.

© The Business Year – January 2013

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