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Improving schools in Mexico

National literacy rates in Mexico are high, with 98 per cent of 15-24 year olds able to read and write. And the country is well on track to meet maths and reading targets set by Felipe Calderon at the start of his presidency in 2007. However, some experts feel the country should be doing much better.

Mexico suffers from high drop-out rates beyond primary level and with insufficient supply in secondary schooling (particularly in rural areas), achievement levels are low compared to other countries. According to the PISA survey, an international testing system of 15-year olds, results in maths could be significantly better and for science, Mexico does no better than a poor country like Jordan.

Much investment has gone into improving education in Mexico. However, an overly large proportion of public money is taken up by teacher’s salaries, where there is apparently much fraud within the system. According to an article in ‘The Economist’, an audit found irregularities in payments to around 90,000 teachers, some of whom turned out to be either non-existent or deceased. It is also extremely hard to remove bad teachers in Mexico, with some posts hereditary.

To add to existing government programs (such as ‘Oportunidades’ which gives cash grants to low-income families and ‘Enciclomedia’ which offers CD-ROM based help with the school curriculum), a programme of ‘School Management Support’ now provides grants to parents associations of poorly-performing schools. They receive around 6 dollars per student each year under the scheme. The money can be spent by parents on whatever they feel is needed, such as educational materials or improving buildings. Though the sums aren’t vast, involving parents in issues of school investment has lead to a decrease in pupil drop-out rates and also an improvement in reading and maths attainment. The scheme works by encouraging parents to feel a commitment to the quality of their local schools and by involving them in budgets, gives parents the opportunity to question teachers about poor performance and teacher absenteeism.

Another initiative which allows parents to more easily monitor schools’ performance is the introduction of an online database which shows exam results across the country. And in an online campaign called ‘Where’s my teacher’, pupils are able to report when teachers are failing to show up in the classroom.

However, there is still much work to do, particularly in rural schools. In remote areas, some secondary pupils have to rely on television broadcasts for lessons and teachers in these schools are often the least-experienced. If Mexico is to raise standards of education, especially in the poorest areas, experts say further improvements to the system will need to be made.

Laurinda Luffman signature