The country’s capital was rocked last summer and fall by over 70,000 protesters, denying and then demanding a repeal to newly elected President Enrique Peña Nieto’s educational reforms. The protests were ultimately unsuccessful, and the teacher union members went back to the classroom by mid-October. However, dissatisfaction has been persistent ever since, and recent oppositional gatherings have quickly emerged again over the past several weeks.
A new year has brought continued demands and radicalized attitudes from the teachers towards the government. One unionized organization, the Coordinating Body of Education Students (CENEO) presented 21 requests to the educational authorities, which as of yet have not been resolved. Again on March 13, negotiation discussions at Oaxaca State Institute of Public Education were promised to the group, but no officials showed.
Their consistent dismissal has provoked severe backlash, both in Mexico City and Oaxaca. Already on March 3rd, unions organized anew, over 10,000 members strong, in the streets of the capital. Again on March 5th, the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNET) organized, resulting in police attacks and five severe injuries. After the negotiation cancellations, student and teacher protesters began a series of vandalizing government buildings. Their anger continues and the political climate remains unstable in the region.
All strikes since summer have been in response to the Law of Professional Education Service, the General Law of Education and the Law for the National Institute for Evaluation of Education, which together regulate the success of the system’s educators through annual student evaluations. The reforms hold that teachers could lose their jobs, on the ground of poor occupational fulfillment.
Many teachers, while they don’t deny that evaluations are necessary, complain that the measures are too harshly targeting them and not taking into account other socio-political conditions that render the tests unfair for everyone involved. Oaxaca, which is Mexico’s poorest state, has a number of educational problems not faced by other, more metropolitan, economically stable and culturally homogenous regions.
Lack of transportation makes attending school difficult for both teachers and students in the rural, mountainous communities. A large indigenous population also presents the obstacle of language barriers in the classroom. The bottom line is that children in Oaxaca have vastly different needs than those in the nation’s capital, and professionals should not be held to the same standards and punishments that Nieto and Congress have initiated.
“Not all states have the same social context. In Oaxaca, for example, we have some very marginalized municipalities and in extreme poverty. Then, how can we evaluate a student with advanced malnutrition (in comparison) with a student that lives in a very advanced social context and has all of the technological services at his disposition,” argues Clemente Jesús García, a teacher in a technical high school participating in the union protests.
Oaxaca is not new to teacher protests and dissatisfaction. For 25 consecutive years, the province was known for its annual union strikes and marches, culminating in the 2006 when 27 protesters were killed by police raids. Some speculate that the carryover of unrest from 2013 to 2014 might reinstate this trend of teacher union activity.
There is no doubt that Mexico, and specifically Oaxaca, need extreme educational reforms. Recent surveys have shown that less than one percent of Mexican students reach the advanced level in the math section of the international Student Assessment exam, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based in Paris.
Although these statistics are shockingly low, many schools in Oaxaca fair even worse. Amenities such as clean water, electricity, stable infrastructure and funding make it hard for these schools to function. A limited availability of teachers who are willing to work in these scenarios puts already crowded classrooms at a huge disadvantage. Frustratingly, this proves that the new education laws are even more misinformed and will do more damage to Oaxaca schools than good.
Frequent studies show that the countries with the best education systems, like Scandinavia and the U.K., are also those with the most open and mutually respectful relationships between individual teachers, unions and governments. Intuitively, this is because this friendly dynamic allows for unions to both defend the unique needs of its members, as well as advocate for and implement better widespread policies.