MEXICO CITY – Mexican teachers are protesting education reforms being pushed by President Enrique Nieto. For three weeks, thousands of teachers occupied Zocalo Square in Mexico City before being forced out by Mexican police with tear gas and water cannons.
President’s Nieto’s education reforms include standardized evaluations of teacher performance and provisions to end corrupt practices that permitted union officials to buy and sell tenured positions. The teachers claim that the new laws aim to weaken the unions and establish a foundation for privatizing the schools.
A radical teachers group—known as 22 Oaxaca— mobilized thousands of teachers to protest Nieto’s reforms by blocking streets, harassing lawmakers and obstructing access to hotels and the international airport in Mexico City. Many of the teachers believe they are being unfairly blamed for substandard student performance.
One of the protesting teachers from Oaxaca told NPR that she came to the capital to tell lawmakers about conditions in her school. According to her statement, the first thing her students tell her every morning is that, “they’re hungry, they have no shoes, and no one has school supplies.” The teachers also question how the same standardized evaluation can be used to assess a teacher with ample resources in Mexico City as well as a teacher in Oaxaca with little or resources.
Lawmakers claim the new regulations will benefit teachers by providing stability and clear rules for performance evaluations. President Nieto claims that teachers have misunderstood his proposals. “The education reform will give them opportunities that they don’t have today,” the President said. “The reform benefits Mexico’s teachers because it is designed to give them job stability, clear rules and certainty for ascending within the national education system.
Nieto is following through on a campaign promise to reform Mexico’s ailing education system. Currently, Mexico has the worst standardized test scores among nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Teachers and union leaders are able to profit from the sale of tenured positions and dismissing or disciplining poorly performing teachers is difficult. Coming into office, Nieto promised to change all that.
Part of that promise is Nieto’s reform bill, which Mexican lawmakers are currently debating. The President has also been tough on union corruption. In February, the leader of the largest teacher’s union was jailed for allegedly embezzling $200 million in union funds for her own personal use. Nieto appears determined to bring about the changes he promised.
But, the growing momentum of the 22 Oaxaca and the teachers’ unions may prove to be the most difficult challenge to Nieto’s young presidency.
– Daniel Bonasso