‘The help never lasts’: why has Mexico’s education revolution failed?

Comments are off for this post.
‘The help never lasts’: why has Mexico’s education revolution failed?
Rate this post

Education was meant to be president Enrique Pea Nietos flagship policy. Yet salaries are still being paid to ghost teachers who never enter a classroom, while children lack the tools and even the food they need to learn

Its almost four in the afternoon, and a quarter of the fifth-grade pupils at ngel Albino Corzo primary school in Buena Vista havent eaten all day. The children are fidgety and distracted as their teacher explains decimals on the white board.

They are counting down the minutes until break time, when they will be given a small portion of beans with tortillas for some, the only meal they will eat today (Mexicos schooling is split into two distinct shifts; these children study from 1.30-6pm).

How can they learn if theyve not eaten and we havent got the right tools? their teacher, Juan Carlos, asks later. He would like to use interactive online worksheets, but the computer lab is closed and theres no internet. Theres only so much we can do.

Buena Vista is a bleak hillside community constructed on industrial wasteland in the sprawling State of Mexico, which wraps around the capital, Mexico City. Crime rates are so high here that in winter months, the school closes early as many children walk home alone. Police do not patrol the neighbourhood.

Attendance at the school is dismal, and drop-out rates are high. Ten of the fifth grades 35 enrolled pupils are absent today. Only three of the original class still attend. We dont know what happens to them, they just stop coming, Carlos says.

View
Crime rates are so high that in winter months, the school closes early as many children walk home alone. Photograph: Nina Lakhani

His fellow teacher, Angelica Rivera, is worried about 14-year-old Pablo, who dropped out of sixth grade two months ago. Pablo was already three years behind but had been doing better until his brother was murdered, at which point he spiralled into drugs and depression. I pleaded with him to come back and finish school, but hes working now, Rivera says. Children who leave here able to read and write are considered a success.

Education was meant to be Mexican president Enrique Pea Nietos flagship policy. In the year after his election in 2012, he announced ambitious reforms to clean-up corruption in the Mexican teachers union (SNTE), improve teaching standards, and create a fairer education model fit for the 21st century.

The government introduced mandatory testing for all teachers, promising from then on promotions and salaries would depend on performance, not favours. The first-ever education census revealed tens of thousands of salaries were being paid illegally to union workers, administrators and even dead, retired and ghost teachers.

But while some progress has been made, millions of dollars are still being misspent. Teachers salaries continue to be paid to people who never enter a classroom, according to federal payroll figures being analysed by the Mexico Evala watchdog and Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. This is illegal but, according to lead investigator Marco Fernandez, no one has been sanctioned.

The new education model needs money to succeed, Fernandez says. How will the government fund more teachers and technology if its still spending millions of dollars on corrupt posts, and failing to punish those responsible?

Quality doesnt matter

Mexico ranks last in education among the 35 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Mexican children leave school with the worst literacy, maths and science skills, with around half failing to meet the most basic standards. The poorest children in Vietnam outperform the most privileged in Mexico.

No matter how rich or poor you are in Mexico, your education is bad or very bad. Jobs are given based on connections not merit, so quality doesnt matter, says Alexandra Zapata, education specialist from the thinktank Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Imco).

Juan
Juan Carlos gives a maths class at ngel Albino Corzo primary school. Photograph: Nina Lakhani

Like others before him, Pea Nieto put computers and information technology at the heart of his education revolution. Riveras class in Buena Vista was one of those selected to benefit from this highly publicised programme of gifting laptops and tablets to fifth-and sixth-graders. Rivera spent six months studying evenings for an online diploma to improve her digital teaching skills.

But around two thirds of the tablets no longer work, and the repair budget has been cut. Some parents simply sold them. In total, a million devices were handed out in six states before the scheme ended; its impact has not been measured.

Another eye-catching policy, announced earlier this year, is to have English-speaking teachers in every school within a decade, and for all children to be bilingual in Spanish and English within 20 years.

Yet Mexicos teachers are hardly equipped to educate those who already speak a different language: 1.3 million schoolchildren around the country use indigenous dialects as their first and sometimes only language. Only 60% of the 55,000 teachers who do speak an indigenous language are in classrooms where students speak the same one.

Pisa reading

Racism has always featured in education policy, and this one fails to recognise that this is a multilingual country where all children have equal rights, says researcher Ivania de la Cruz Orozco, from the Centre for Research and Teaching of Economics (Cide).

Education doesnt exist in a bubble, Orozco says. Mexicos indigenous children do not go to university because of the social and economic conditions they live in. Its not because they dont want to go.

Children in indigenous schools have the lowest achievement levels, with more than 80% falling below the basic level needed to progress. One in four indigenous 15-year-olds cannot read or write four times the general illiteracy rate. Poverty within indigenous communities is rising.

According to Patricio Sols, a leading inequalities expert at the College of Mexico, education is a double-edged sword. It can be a vehicle for social mobility or, like in Mexico, it can reflect and reproduce inequalities.

For Sols, the education system could compensate for a childs unequal start by offering summer schools in the most marginalised communities and incentives so the best teachers work in the most needy schools. Instead, it does the opposite.

Our system is designed to reproduce inequalities rather than compensate for them. The children with the most needs get the worst services, like tele-secondary schools [a distance learning model where a reduced number of teachers rely on video and audio materials to teach the curriculum]. Ive seen no evidence that the situation is improving, Sols says.

Mexico is currently the OECDs second most unequal country, after newcomer Chile. School dropout rates, absences and grade repetition are all much worse within its poorer communities.

Where people live in the poorest conditions, the education always arrives last and is the poorest in every aspect funding, materials, preparation of teachers which means inequality is perpetuated, says Sylvia Schmelkes, outgoing director of the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education.

Theres no denying we have a quality problem and an inequality problem. Both are very serious.

Teachers feel demonised

As Pea Nieto enters his final year in office, the future of his flagship education reform programme looks bleak. While the education minister, a close ally of the president, insists the government remains committed to its education agenda, and a spokeswoman says that all the priority programmes that support this educational transformation are sufficiently funded, the numbers are revealing.

The education budget was slashed by 11.4% this year to 12bn the lowest since 2011 as the economy reels from US president Donald Trumps threats to build a border wall and rip up trade agreements.

The textbook budget has been cut by a third; teacher training and equality programmes reduced by 40% each; and funds to get children digitally connected have been cut completely.

Teacher
What child would read this? Teacher Angelica Rivera with a fine-print copy of Gullivers Travels. Photograph: Nina Lakhani

Many teachers feel demonised thanks to the monumental dispute between the government and their union but in Buena Vista, at least, theyre trying their best under desperately difficult circumstances.

Rivera buys and downloads interactive worksheets on to her personal laptop and projects them on to the whiteboard to try and inspire her class. A high school volunteer is trying to fix the broken desktops but theres no IT teacher, so the computer lab is largely defunct.

Its not just technology deficits the teachers have to cope with. The school didnt receive enough textbooks to go round this year, so children must work in groups or from photocopies.

The local government did, however, donate some reading books including an unreadable, fine-print version of Gullivers Travels. What child would read this? asks Rivera, flicking through the pictureless book. But it means some politician somewhere can say he helped the school.

When the break-time bell finally rings at 4.30pm, the children bolt towards the dining room all except Julia, a twinkly-eyed sixth-grader who loiters outside, playing with a ratty looking dog. She only had a glass of milk for breakfast and doesnt have the five pesos (20p) to pay for lunch. Rivera hands her a coin, and Julia runs in, smiling.

Were bang in the middle of the poverty belt, says the schools headteacher Norma Jimenez, sitting at her office desk next to an imposing Mexican flag. There is no doctor, no dentist, no water, no police in this community this is marginalisation.

Straight-talking Jimenez is zealous about the potential of education. Every time theres a new programme, we get excited and I send my teachers on courses. But then it disappears and we get disillusioned. Its like boom and bust.

We could do so much good here, have a real impact, she adds. But theres no assessment of need. The help never lasts.

  • Share your experience of education inequality, wherever you live, by emailing inequality.project@theguardian.com
  • Follow the Guardians Inequality Project on Twitter here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/aug/15/the-help-never-lasts-why-has-mexicos-education-revolution-failed

Share this article

Comments are closed.

Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com