Mexico: Education poised for reform
Far-reaching changes in the way Mexico hires and assesses its teachers could be on the way as the government moves closer to rolling out reforms aimed at overhauling the education system. However, some critics counter that until a greater emphasis is placed on science and technology education, Mexico is unlikely to reap the rewards of change where it is most needed, in improved productivity and competitiveness.
President Enrique Peña Nieto has shown himself keen to tackle the challenges facing the education system, making its improvement a key target in the National Development Plan 2013-2018. In February, the president signed a controversial education reform bill into law which, once implemented, is expected to remove the powers that unions have over appointing teachers. The administration also wants to create standardised methods of evaluating teacher performances across the nation.
The most powerful teachers’ union, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), has protested against the idea of standardised assessment, arguing that such a system would work against those practising in rural and lower-class areas, who often have far fewer resources and support systems available to them. Their protests culminated in teacher strikes which took place in March and April.
Ironically, the SNTE has close historical links with Peña Nieto’s PRI, having originally been set up by the political party. However, the SNTE’s firm grip on all public school teaching jobs is now seen as an obstacle in the path of reforms, with current practices, such as the granting of lifetime tenures to teachers after six months in a post, raising concerns.
Despite the clear divisions between the current administration and the SNTE, there is a broad consensus that Mexico’s education system requires an extensive overhaul if the country is to achieve its long-term economic and social goals.
The education sector faces deep-rooted problems, even though additional funds have been allocated to the sector over the past decade. Mexico placed 100 out of 144 nations for the overall quality of its education system, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012-13 “Global Competitiveness Report”. The ranking for math and science education was lower, at 124.
Some IT industry players see tailoring the education strategy to the labour market and enhancing innovation capacity as two key areas that need prioritising if the country is to improve its economic competitiveness.
“The government thinks that a key component in transforming Mexico into a full knowledge-based economy will be an emphasis on technical education, which is lacking at this point,” Ricardo Arratia, the CEO of local IT company Brio, told OBG.
He added that once university programmes are expanded and a budget allocated to science and technology, “we will see an increase in productivity and competitiveness of the labour force”.
According to figures published by the OECD, public spending on education as a percentage of GDP was 5.3% in 2012, slightly below the OECD average of 5.8%. The government channelled 20.3% of its expenditures into education last year, significantly above the OECD average of 13%. However, Mexico is still one of the lowest spenders in terms of dollars per student among OECD members, placing second from bottom, above Brazil.
With government revenue limited, structural and administrative reforms look likely to spearhead efforts to improve the education system, although infrastructure and educational materials will require increased funding. The administration’s attempt to wrest back some of the power from the STNE is likely to place a greater onus on teachers to perform to the best of their abilities, as the sector braces itself for the legislative changes.