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Our maxim: “understanding before action”
Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

martes, 28 de octubre de 2014

México y su reforma educativa.

Though President Enrique Pena Nieto has celebrated his reform agenda, teachers in Mexico’s impoverished southern states still oppose changes to the education system. The long-term success of Pena Nieto’s unfinished education reform will define how far his economic agenda goes.

Mexico’s Unfinished Education Reform Key to Pena Nieto’s Economic Agenda.

by Nathaniel Parish Flannery, Oct. 28, 2014

A woman marches with leaflets with the images of missing students attached to her body, during a protest against the disappearance of 43 students from the Isidro Burgos rural teachers college, in Mexico City, Oct. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Eduardo Verdugo).
Just over a year ago, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto celebrated the first victory of his lauded “Pact for Mexico” coalition after the country’s Senate passed an education reform bill aimed at wresting control of the education system from Mexico’s most powerful union. In subsequent months, he and his team passed a series of other reforms in telecommunications and energy, promising to kick-start a new era of investment and economic growth. This past August, after signing into law the secondary legislation implementing energy reform, Pena Nieto penned an op-ed in the Financial Times declaring that “Mexico’s reform agenda is now complete.”

But many teachers in impoverished areas of southern states such as Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, far removed from Mexico City’s modernity and development, are far less optimistic. Even as Pena Nieto and his team promote “Mexico’s Moment” and work to attract investment, teachers in those states have continued to aggressively oppose the education reform bill. Their opposition has been compounded by recent high-profile incidents of violence tied to drug cartels that have turned the spotlight both in Mexico and abroad away from Pena Nieto’s reform agenda and back on longstanding and unresolved problems of crime and corruption.

On Sept. 26, when municipal police and gunmen in civilian clothes—allegedly cartel hitmen—opened fire on a group of young teachers-in-training in Iguala, Guerrero, killing six—one of whom was skinned alive—and kidnapping more than 50 others, the grievances of rural teachers were pushed onto the international stage. In addition to exposing the uncomfortable connections between organized crime and local government in Mexico’s periphery, the horrors in Iguala have also drawn attention to the systemic flaws in public education in Mexico.

“Mexico is entering an age of reform, but it’s still a mix of the 21st century and the 18th century,” says David Calderon, a public policy expert from Mexicanos Primeros, a civil society group. “You still have farm communities that still live like it’s the Middle Ages.” Although Mexico’s education system is relatively strong compared to other Latin American countries, it performs dismally in comparison to the United States, Europe and East Asia. “Students from the top income decile in Mexico perform worse in [international standardized exams] than students from the lowest income decile in Canada,” Calderon explains.

Over half of all Mexican students leave school by age 15. A 10th of Mexican schools have no bathrooms; in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, Calderon says, that proportion is half. According to a survey by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), more than a fifth of schools lack running water, and nearly a 10th have no electricity. Only a fifth of schools are connected to the Internet; four out of every 10 don’t have computers.

Educators in rural areas in particular have long complained that they do not receive enough funds to effectively run their schools. “There are schools in the sierra that are made out of cardboard and others that have students sit under trees,” says Carlos, a 28-year-old teacher who attended a recent demonstration in Iguala to raise awareness of the 43 missing students.*

Pena Nieto’s education reform includes a program called “Dignified Schools” that, for the 2014-2015 school year, sets aside $554 million to provide marginalized rural schools with the basic infrastructure necessary to provide students with an education. This spending is in addition to a separate “Digital Literacy” program that will provide 709,000 students with digital tablets.

But money is only part of the issue for a system that faces a nearly $4 billion funding gap. Overall, the problem for Mexico’s school system isn’t actually that it is underfunded; it is how the money is spent. As a percentage of its federal budget, Mexico spends more than most other countries in the Western hemisphere. The problem is that this spending is plagued by corruption and inefficiencies. Nearly a quarter of the teaching jobs currently on the Ministry of Education’s payroll are problematic. A review in 2008 found one person on the teacher payroll in the state of Chihuahua being paid $66,000—per month. A more recent audit found 39,000 teachers on the payroll who appear to be fictitious and another 115,000 who are retired or dead but still being paid. In a system in which a fifth of public spending goes to education and 80 percent of education spending goes to teacher salaries, such theft, waste and graft can’t be tolerated.

For the government, the way to deal with these “irregularities,” says Carlos Orneleas, a Mexican education scholar, “is to centralize the system and consolidate the payroll. Money will be saved and [available] to address other issues.” The education reform puts the federal government in control of the purse by Jan. 1, 2015, taking that power away from state-level teachers’ unions.

Some career teachers in rural areas may continue to protest against such widely supported measures, like ending the practice of teachers inheriting or selling their posts as well as a new policy of evaluating teachers and giving schools more flexibility to hire and fire teachers. Carlos, the teacher at the recent demonstration in Iguala, opposes teacher evaluations, for instance, because of the disparity in teaching conditions he faces compared to urban schools.

But, in addition to eliminating “ghost employees,” the reform will also help foster institutional security in rural schools by requiring teachers to stay for a minimum of one year. Continued protests in southern states are expected, but they aren’t likely to reverse the education reform. Yet it remains to be seen if government control of the education budget will translate into clear, coherent improvements to the system, implemented uniformly at the both the state and local level.

Mexico has emerged as a major industrial producer, but its economy continues to be defined by persistent poverty and inequality. Pena Nieto’s energy and telecom reforms should generate investment and jobs. But for Mexico’s population to really benefit from those reforms, the country’s school system has to do a better job of educating the next generation of engineers, administrators, information technology experts and factory technicians.

The long-term success of Pena Nieto’s first, somewhat overshadowed reform—education—will define how far his broader economic agenda goes. “The government is going to prioritize the energy reform and the telecom reform,” says Rodrigo Aguilar, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Mexico analyst, “but if they come at the expense of education reform, it would be quite a setback” for Mexico.

*Editor's note: The original version of this article referred to the demonstration as a protest against education reform. WPR regrets the error.

Nathaniel Parish Flannery is a Mexico City-based analyst and writer. He has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and has worked on projects in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Guatemala.

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