I recently created an online course on Mexican economic development for Marginal Revolution University. If you haven’t checked out MRU, I’d urge you to do so. The courses are free and open to anyone. MRU is the brainchild of Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, and here is their description of the concept.
The course is in the middle of unrolling on the site and in this week I have a several videos on Mexican education. This is an important topic, for while enrollment and retention rates have improved, the average quality of schooling and teaching in Mexico is quite poor.
Mexico does not spend a lot on education and the money goes almost entirely to salaries: “of the federal budget spent on education, 97 percent goes to fund current (salary) costs.” The national Mexican teachers union (SNTE) has been politically very powerful and corrupt. Historically, people could buy teaching jobs, or sell their job, or bequeath it to a relative. Teachers are often not well trained, and the union has up to now resisted any competence testing with consequences. Life tenure is usually granted within 6 months of starting work.
President President Pena Nieto has made education reform one of the cornerstones of his presidency. Already in 2013, the government has passed a reform bill that will:
“Create a system of uniform standards for teacher hiring and promotion based on merit, and will allow for the first census of Mexico’s education system. Because the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers union controls the education system, no one knows exactly how many schools, teachers or students exist.”
The plan moves much of the control of the public education system to the federal government from the teachers’ union.
I say at the end of the video that the new bill is a good start, but real education reform will be a long hard road and the jury is still very much out.
A couple of recent articles (including one with the excellent title of “Those Who Can’t Teach Block” in the NY Times) reminded me of how long the road will likely be.
For instance, The Miami Herald reports that 20,000 public school teachers, who belong to “a radical splinter union of elementary and high-school teachers in Guerrero, one of the country’s poorest and worst-educated states,” went on strike more than a month ago.
A few days ago, thousands of members of this group blocked one of the busiest highways in the country for 2 hours, until the federal police “forcibly removed them.”
The fact that teachers are so mad might actually mean that the reform will make a difference. Now we just have to wait and see if the politicians cave to the pressure.