Mexico's Drug War Affects EducationSince the Mexican government declared war against drug cartels in 2006, nationwide violence between cartels, police and the military has been taking a steep toll. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI)  estimates the war led to 300,000 homicides and the disappearance of 66,000 people since 2006. This increased violence raises particular concern about how Mexico’s drug war affects education quality.

Major Disruption to Mexico’s Education System

Widespread violence from the drug war has caused mass school closures, negatively affecting the quality of education Mexican youths receive. Between 2019 and 2020, cartel violence forced school closures in eight states: elementary schools closed 104 times, junior high schools 51 times, preschools 49 times, high schools four times and universities three times. These forced closures caused severe disruptions for Mexican youths, undermining the quality of their educational opportunities. The World Bank reported in 2020 that only 72% of Mexicans used the internet, implying difficulties for remote learning options.

A study collected data during the 2000s and captured stark differences in education quality between areas with high rates of violence and areas with lower violence. Student absenteeism in high violence areas was 44%, while lower violence areas had 33%. Teacher absenteeism follows the same trend: High violence areas were 20.8%, while lower violence areas had 13.2%. Student lateness compared 52.9% to 11.9%, and teacher lateness had 41.2% to 29.1%. The study found the widest divergence in the presence of youth gangs: 51.6% versus 23.5%. Even one month of gang-related violence can reduce school enrollment by 14%. These statistics show how drug-related violence has heavily disrupted many educational systems in Mexico.

Drug Cartels Target Students and Teachers

The study emphasizes how homicide is now the second leading cause of death for Mexican males aged 15-24, a critical age range for learning skills from education and entering the labor force. Between 2000 and 2019, 21,000 Mexicans under 18 were killed, while 7,000 have disappeared. Cartels have also recruited youths in economically deprived areas where a lack of opportunities and resources contribute to youth recruitment. In 2019 alone, cartels recruited an estimated 30,000 Mexican youths. This recruitment targeting is partly why youths sometimes avoid or drop out of school. In 2006, at the start of the drug war, 11,664 Mexican youths did not attend primary school, compared to 106,131 in 2019.

In 2011, 7,000 Acapulco teachers protested against gang violence threatening their schools. They called on the government to provide safety in the face of teachers being attacked, extorted and kidnapped. More than 100 schools shut down in Acapulco due to teachers standing up to cartels who had demanded half their salaries in extortion. Schools only reopened four years later, in 2015, after the Mexican National Guard stepped in to ensure student and teacher safety.

Mexican citizens have increasingly mobilized to demand accountability from their government and better protection for schools. In 2014, the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero sparked national protests over the government’s inability to provide a safe, educational experience for teachers and students. Mexico continues to fight drug-related violence affecting schools, knowing how important education is in reducing poverty and improving opportunities.

– John Zake
Photo: Wikimedia Commons