President Peña Nieto Signs Law For Educational Reform

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On February 25th, President Enrique Pena Nieto signed a new law which will implement sweeping educational reforms across Mexico. The law had great support in congress and the majority of state legislatures.

The law will decrease the power of the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers (SUNTE). SUNTE has effectively controlled Mexico’s school system since 1992 when it gained control of the teacher hiring process, and corruption became rank.

Teaching positions can be sold, inherited, or even bartered for cars or other possessions and the recipient often lacks the necessary qualifications to teach. This is especially advantageous for union leaders who can hand out tenured teaching posts in exchange for money, favors and votes.

A secondary teacher admitted paying $23,400 (300,000 pesos) for her tenured position to a retiring teacher who used the money to pay SUNTE.

Elba Esther Gordillo has led SUNTE for 23 years and under the old law was the person who hired and fired teachers. In October 2012 she ran unopposed and was elected for another 6 months without any dissenting votes.

Her opponents have accused her of corruption, misuse of union funds, and even murder, but investigating prosecutors have never brought a charge against her.

Gordillo admitted to the sale of teaching positions, but did not take responsibility or in any way condone the practice.  “Either the (government) bureaucracy sells them, or my bureaucracy sells them … it’s possible it happens and we combat it, I know we are not perfect,” Gordillo said last month.

Gordillo insists that SUNTE will not allow teachers to be fired despite the new reforms and is lobbying for influence over how teachers’ performance will be measured.

Teachers often skip classes, and some even cease instructing entirely. These teachers take an additional job at the union, and final year students doing social service work are sent in as substitutes. The “teacher” continues to earn full salary despite their continuous absence.

“My mother took me out of public school simply because of missed classes. We had teachers who wouldn’t turn up most of the year because they had union jobs,” said 16-year-old high school student Omar Castellano.

The records are inaccurate and no one knows how many teachers exist. The national teachers’ payroll is believed to include thousands of phantom teachers. A teacher turned drug cartel leader was on the payroll for a full decade before being the state noticed and cancelled his teacher checks.

The Mexicanos Primero, a private group advocating educational reform, produced a 2009 report which estimates 22,000 union employees who did not teach earned a combined $130 million annually.

Unsurprisingly, this style of teaching has produced sub-par levels of knowledge among students.

Student achievement in Mexico is among the lowest of all countries participating in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), despite the dedication of more than 20 percent of its federal budget to education.  50 percent of 15 year-olds in Mexico struggle to do basic math and approximately 40 percent are far below proficient reading levels.

All of this will begin to change with the new educational reforms.

The law will weaken Mexico’s powerful teachers’ union by moving the control of the public education system from SUNTE to the federal government. Merit-based, uniform standards for teacher hiring and promotion will be developed. Learning hours will be increased in approximately 40,000 public schools and the first country-wide school census will be conducted.

If properly implemented, economists predict that the improved educational standards will increase the number of well-educated people in the workforce and significantly boost Mexico’s economic growth.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: ABC News, Reuters
Photo: Flickr

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