Girls’ education in Mexico has steadily improved over the last 50 years in terms of school accessibility, educational infrastructure and attendance rates. The opportunity to attend primary school is almost equal for girls (49 percent) and boys (51 percent) in Mexico.
However, the Mexican government still faces many challenges to educational attainment for girls, with poverty as its primary determinant. There are many factors and influences on girls’ education in Mexico, as well as programs offering a positive change in recent years.
10 Facts about Girls’ Education in Mexico
- Primary School Attendance Vs. Higher Education Attendance
The Mexican school system consists of mandatory free primary and, as of 1992, secondary education as well as optional tertiary education. While the number of girls in school has caught up to the number of boys in school, “this is only true until the age of 14.” Starting at around age 15, girls in Mexico face sociocultural barriers to continue to higher education. Early marriages or unions, early pregnancies, domestic responsibilities and traditional roles of women encourage girls to leave school earlier than boys.
- Family Poverty
Family poverty is a key determinant of girls’ underrepresentation in Mexican schools. A 2001 study showed that, compared with boys, girls from poor families – families from the lowest fifth of the income distribution in each year – were less likely to attend school full-time. Girls in the lowest 20 percent of the income distribution were less likely than boys to be in school or employed; however, there was no significant difference between school attendance rates of boys and girls in Mexico living in upper-income households.
- Regional Poverty
In Mexico, rural areas are defined as localities with less than 2,500 residents. These localities tend to have a higher percentage of the population in poverty with less access to health and educational systems. Regional poverty contributes to the underdevelopment of girls’ education in Mexico; southern Mexico – Mexico’s least developed region – is the region where girls are most disadvantaged in terms of school access.
- Indigenous Populations
In Mexico, indigenous populations are defined by either self-identification or language. Ten percent of Mexico’s 130 million inhabitants are indigenous and there are over 68 linguistic groups coexisting in Mexico. Southern Mexico has the greatest concentration of indigenous populations. Despite extreme variation in household languages, all primary education is taught in Spanish, “which contributes to an uneven learning process in classrooms.” Furthermore, girls’ education in Mexico within indigenous populations is complicated by the limited availability of transportation and by sociocultural barriers, such as the expectation for women and girls to maintain the household. Though the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico (2017) showed that access to primary level school is almost equal for girls (49 percent) and boys (51 percent), the statistics do not necessarily reflect the cultural barriers that indigenous girls face if they are to continue into higher education.
- Parental Involvement
Parental involvement and maternal education is a key determinant of girls’ education in Mexico. In general, high parental education levels are positively associated with their children’s achievement. Specifically, studies conducted in Mexico have found that a mother’s level of education has a strong positive effect on their daughters’ enrollment in school. Mothers with basic education are significantly more likely to educate their children, and especially their daughters. Data suggests that support to uneducated mothers’ literacy programs should be a high priority for the Mexican government since these programs help to increase girls’ school enrollment, attendance and participation.
- HIP: Investing in Girls’ Education in Mexico
In 2017, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) began to invest in girls’ education in Mexico as part of their mission to promote Latino equity and inclusion across Latin America. Findings from their research into international and national actors led them to the conclusion that there are several educational initiatives in Mexico to improve the quality of education. However, these efforts are not designed specifically with girls in mind. To improve girls’ education in Mexico, HIP intends to increase investments in programs to reduce early marriages, unions and pregnancies. HIP relies on its 15 years of grantmaking experience in the U.S. and Latin America, partnerships with over 270 donors and investments in Latino-serving organizations throughout the U.S. and Latin America to achieve their goals regarding in girls’ education in Mexico.
Since 1998, PROGRESA — a national poverty-alleviation initiative, later called Oportunidades — provides stipends to millions of Mexican households on the condition of children’s school enrollment and attendance, with higher stipends for girls’ education. This program was one of many conditional cash transfer programs started by the Mexican government, which incentivized Mexico’s poorest households to send their children — especially their girls — to school. Beginning with secondary school, stipends are higher for girls to remain in school due to their higher drop-out rate. Since Oportunidades’ inception, 39 percent of girls in the program advanced more rapidly through the school system, and 18 percent of girls who dropped out at the third-grade level now remained in school.
- The New Educational Model
The New Educational Model, Mexico’s latest educational reform, is dedicated to ensuring that a greater number of indigenous girls have access to education. The last time the Mexican government implemented a new educational model was in 1959; however, this new educational reform encourages comprehension over memorization and allows for greater parental involvement regarding subject selection. These changes will, in turn, encourage girls’ education in Mexico.
- Fields of Education
In recent years, there has been a greater push for girls to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields in higher education in Mexico. Jointly run by Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education, The Mexican Academy of Science and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), new programs in Mexican higher education are promoting STEM education, “placing significant focus on female students.” According to OECD, 5 out of 10 students studying at Mexican universities are women; however, many females have refused to choose science as a career in the past. The U.S.-Mexico Foundation (USMF) created a STEM mentoring program for Mexican female high school students, which had exceptional results: 100 percent of the girls in the program who graduated from high school attended college, and around 85 percent of them are studying STEM-related careers.
- Expansion of Early Childcare Programs
In Mexico, there is a societal expectation that “daughters should provide domestic support.” Girls’ school enrollment and attendance rates are based, in part, on the sibling composition of the family. Younger sisters are freed from the domestic responsibilities when their older sister remains in the home to fulfill that role. Though policymakers have made some headway with initiatives and educational reforms, girls’ access to Mexico’s secondary schools could be significantly improved with the implementation of policy to expand early childcare programs. With this policy intervention, more girls would be freed up to attend school.
Girls’ education in Mexico is influenced by family features (e.g. family poverty, parental involvement, maternal education and sibling composition), sociocultural barriers (e.g. early marriages, early pregnancies and domestic responsibilities and expectations), and instability (e.g. regional poverty, limited transportation and poor educational infrastructure).
Despite the challenges to education for girls in Mexico, there have been many educational reforms and initiatives in the past 20 years (e.g. PROGRESA-Oportunidades, HIP, The New Educational Model, USMF’s STEM mentoring program, among others) that have encouraged positive change.
If this kind of trajectory continues, education for girls in Mexico will hopefully reach unprecedented levels of success.
– Kara Roberts