education in MexicoMuch of Mexico’s population faces economic struggles that have only magnified amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of which includes the high dropout rate for school-age children, a challenge education in Mexico is facing.

Mexico Faces High Student Drop-Out Rates

Mexico’s enrollment rate is one of the most successful out of the Latin American countries. By the start of the 21st century, almost all of Mexico’s age-eligible population was enrolled in primary and lower secondary school. A study found that the enrollment rate for students in grades one to nine as of 2007 was around 95%. Yet, the country fails to secure a high rate of student enrollment through the end of lower secondary schooling, with the overall drop-out rate being close to 50%

Data shows that less than 60% of students finish upper secondary school (high school level) and of that percentage, a large number of children age-eligible for high school do not even attend, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study. Many students decide to end their educational pursuits around the age 15, due to financial reasons. Additionally, an estimated 5.2 million students, around 14% of Mexico’s school-aged children, had dropped out of school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing financial hardship as the reason for their educational termination.

The Impact of Poverty

Although the government made secondary education mandatory in Mexico, it doesn’t directly enforce it. Additionally, “children marginalized by… poverty experience particularly high risks of dropping out” due to financial burdens, according to an article published in the International Journal of Educational Development. As children age, their school curriculum tends to become more difficult and financial costs tend to increase. Coupled with that fact, as children grow older they become more capable of contributing to their family’s financial status, whether that labor is through household duties or in the formal job market, the same article reports.

Mexico’s high dropout rates for school-aged children during and prior to secondary school therefore can have two reasons: the country’s poverty rates and the dependency on children’s labor to supplement household income, all of which especially escalated following the onset of COVID-19.

The Cancellation of Prospera

In recent news, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador canceled Prospera, a governmental program intended to keep children in school and improve education in Mexico, according to Social Protection. The government developed the program in 1997 in response to Mexico’s economic crisis during the years 1994-1995, renewed it as Oportunidades in 2002, then renamed it Prospera in 2014. Following its cancellation, a new program, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, replaced the educational components of Prospera.

What was Prospera?

Prospera was a conditional cash transfer program (CCT) that not only focused on child education but health and nutrition; it supplied monthly cash subsidies to poor households, primarily those belonging to single and/or unemployed mothers, under certain conditions, Social Protection reports. These conditions included school enrollment and regular trips to health clinics for children.

The CCT program reached 6.2 million households and researchers found that during its implementation, educational attainment for children increased by about 10%, according to Social Protection. Other short-term positive impacts thanks to the program’s conditional healthcare visits included a decrease in maternal death by 11% and infant mortality by 2% and an average improvement in children’s nutritional health.

Long-term impacts of Mexico’s Prospera are still being studied, but one study found that the program’s beneficiaries were “37% more likely to have a job” than those who did not participate and the World Bank attributes one-third of the decrease in Mexico’s rural poverty rates to the program. The World Bank also notes that over 50 countries have replicated Mexico’s Prospera model, adopting similar CCT programs.

Reasons Behind Cancellation

Despite this, Prospera was not particularly popular among voters and Mexico’s president Lopez Obrador eventually canceled it. Data has shown that the program’s beneficiaries received 30% to 40% less in cash value than what was originally intended.

Additionally, the program failed to include 55% of families living in poverty and with household incomes that should have qualified for program consideration, according to Development Pathways.

The Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund

That being said, President Lopez-Obrador and his administration intend for the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, Prospera’s replacement, to serve children’s educational pursuits without Prospera’s past corruption. In an effort to confront Mexico’s low enrollment and high dropout rates in secondary education and beyond, the fund will give monetary grants in the form of scholarships to teenagers attending upper secondary (high) schools, Social Protection reports.

This fund, however, does not account for “the removal of conditional health and nutrition requirements of Prospera,” Social Protection reports. Despite this fact, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund aims to “encourage [children’s] school enrollment and graduation” without making subsidies conditional upon parents meeting certain requirements.

The program targets families with school-aged children whose monthly income falls under the extreme poverty line and Mexico’s government claims “priority is given to families that live in areas of indigenous populations, areas with high degrees of marginalization or with high rates of violence,” according to Observatory on Social Development.

Mexico’s government has made efforts to improve education in Mexico and school enrollment through programs such as Prospera and, more recently, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund.

– Ashley Kim
Photo: Flickr

Education in Mexico
Education in Mexico has a history of being low in quality and, thus, enrollment. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), almost 19% of Mexican children between the ages of 15 and 19 do not have a high school education. As of 2022, the graduation rate of Mexican students is only 45% and those who are receiving an education are not even close to receiving a quality education.

Barriers to Education in Mexico

There are many barriers to education in Mexico, a large one being the shrinking of funds that go towards the school systems. In the past 5 years, Mexico has cut its textbook budget by a third and reduced its teacher training by more than 40%. As of 2018, Mexico is only spending 16.58% of its budget on education, a number that has been declining since 2015. The limited money that is going towards education in Mexico makes it almost impossible to develop a higher-quality system.

Another barrier to education in Mexico is the poverty that 43.9% of people are currently living in. School dropout rates and grade repetitions are very real and serious issues for students living in poorer communities and largely affect teenagers. Many young adults have to abandon the privilege of an education and seek work instead. Low-quality education is more of a reality for children in the marginalized areas of Mexico, exhibiting disregard for regional differences and therefore putting some students at major disadvantages. Due to natural disasters and a lack of funding, many school buildings are in extremely poor condition, disrupting learning and sometimes, putting students in danger.

Nonprofits Improving Education in Mexico

The poor quality of education in Mexico is doing a severe disservice to the future of the country. Thankfully, there are a few organizations that are trying to combat the deeply flawed system. Project Amigo is a nonprofit that is helping the disadvantaged and marginalized children of west-central Mexico by providing educational scholarships, school supplies and health care to those who need it. It accepts monetary, laptop and book donations, all of which help students achieve their academic and extracurricular goals. Other organizations are focusing on training capable and empowered teachers. Enseña Por México trains young leaders who, upon completion of the program, devote a minimum of two years to working in a low-income school. As of 2018, approximately 284 of Enseña Por México’s alumni became teachers in eight different states.

Looking Ahead

While some schools are in worse shape than others, the overall quality of education in Mexico is poor. Denying young people the right to receive a well-rounded education is no better than denying them any education at all. It is imperative that organizations like Project Amigo and Enseña Por México get the support that they need to help the children of Mexico flourish.

– Ava Lombardi
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Indigenous communities make up 12.6 percent of Mexico’s total population. Despite their significant numbers, this population faces much higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes and lower life expectancies than their non-indigenous counterparts. As of 2015, 80.6 percent of indigenous peoples in Mexico lived in extreme poverty, and as a result, indigenous education in Mexico suffers.

Five Facts About Indigenous Education in Mexico

  1. Compared to national averages and non-indigenous outcomes, indigenous children in Mexico are severely disadvantaged. Only 27 percent of indigenous children in Mexico graduate from high school. The national illiteracy rate is 8.4 percent, but the illiteracy rate among indigenous peoples is 44 percent. Indigenous children are more likely than non-indigenous children to drop out of school, and indigenous girls are especially at risk of not completing their education.
  2. Some of the major obstacles to indigenous education in Mexico are the lack of schools in rural areas (where indigenous peoples are more likely to live), lower-quality teachers or teachers who reach burnout and overall poorer academic performance (measured by test scores and other achievements) due to the language barrier. Spanish is the typical language of instruction in schools in Mexico, despite the fact that it is often a second (or even third) language for indigenous children.
  3. The approach to indigenous education in Mexico has evolved over time. In 1978, Mexico created a General Department of Indigenous Education. In the 1980s, the general philosophy of indigenous education was “bilingual and bicultural.” However, this was only implemented in a handful of pilot programs and the development of primers in 40 of the most common indigenous languages. In the 1990s, the philosophy shifted to “bilingual and ” In 2001, the Federal Ministry of Education created a branch called Coordination in Intercultural Bilingual Education. Two laws have also enshrined the right to education for indigenous peoples – the Amendment on Indigenous Rights (2001) and the General Law on the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2003).
  4. The Compensatory Education Project, partnered with the World Bank, has supported the expansion of CONAFE (the National Council for Educational Development). CONAFE is at the forefront of improving indigenous education in Mexico. It provides educational services in rural areas and in indigenous communities. The expansion of CONAFE focuses specifically on its early child development programs, its school-based management programs and providing traveling tutors to schools with the lowest levels of academic performance.
  5. The southern state of Chiapas has the largest indigenous population in Mexico. Chiapas has become a success story in the realm of educational attainment for Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. It adopted the Chiapas-U.N. Agenda, which mandated that its social policies be guided by the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. As a result, between 2008 and 2010 Chiapas saw an increase in its literacy rates and enrollment rates. According to the UNDP, this policy change “provides a clear example that change is possible if governments, civil society and people are willing to embrace it.”

If the globe and Mexico continue such positive efforts, the indigenous nation of Mexico should see even more of an increase of educational success stories, services, and overall improvement of indigenous education.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Mexico's Oportunidades
Although parents in Mexico generally are aware of the long-term benefits of education, they sometimes pull their children out of school and send them to work. This is indicative of the vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty that afflicts many Mexican families.

The goal of the Oportunidades Program — Mexico’s primary anti-poverty program — is to put an end to this cycle by improving the health and education of the children. It represents 46.5% of the country’s federal annual anti-poverty budget and has so far benefitted 6 million people since its beginning in 1997.

The program conditionally supplements the families’ incomes and provides monetary educational grants so that parents can afford to send their children to school. Families are chosen by socio-economic evaluation and payments are given to the female head of the family.

The chief components of the program are as follows:

  • Education: Grants are provided for primary school students all the way through high school. As students progress in their educations, the grants become slightly higher for girls than for boys. This has resulted in an enrollment increase of 20 percent for girls and 10 percent for boys in secondary school.
  • Health: Government public health institutions provide basic health care for families with particular emphasis on preventative health care. As a result, children between the ages of one and five have a 12 percent lower incidence of illness. There has also been an 11.8% drop in anemia among children under age two.
  • Nutrition: Families receive about 155 pesos monthly in order to increase the quality of the children’s food consumption. Nutritional supplements are also provided for small children and pregnant women.

Up to a third of the decrease in poverty in rural areas can be attributed to the Oportunidades Program, according to a 2014 world bank report. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) also evaluated the program’s effectiveness and found that after three years, children in rural areas have increased their school enrollment, have improved diets and have received better medical attention.

Recently the Oportunidades Program, now called Prospera, has spread to urban areas and extended high school education grants. The program has also been successfully replicated in 52 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Oportunidades’ resounding success proves that conditional cash transfer programs, even on a large scale, do in fact reduce poverty and prepare the country for long-term economic growth. This investment in human capital — primarily the children’s well-being and education — is an exemplary way to not only reduce poverty but eliminate it.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Education in Mexico
Education in Mexico is often criticized for its absentee teachers, rundown facilities and poor examination results. These issues must be addressed to ensure that Mexican children receive quality educations and inspiration to continue their studies.

Many schools in Mexico have initiated innovative programs to provide children with more constructive learning environments. In August, Mexico City-based newspaper Reforma published a magazine advertising many such initiatives.

According to Reforma, 24,500 schools are now taking part in the Full-Time School Program (PETC), a program emphasizing indigenous languages, English, art, sport, culture, music and what UNICEF calls “participatory learning.” This learning model encourages communication, creativity, teamwork and technology use in interactive projects.

National Escala exam reports reveal that children enrolled in PETC schools obtain better results than do their peers, according to one PETC school headmistress. When implemented correctly, PETC has the potential to improve education in Mexico.

For a long time, education in Mexico focused exclusively on academic subjects without promoting the development of other skills. Schools today, however, have started expanding their curricula to give children new opportunities.

The Modern American School in Mexico City, for example, collaborated with the Cultural Center of Spain in Mexico to design an eight-month radio, newspaper and television production course. The course allows student to think creatively and learn new and exciting skills.

Other schools in Mexico City have incorporated dance into their curricula to promote physical fitness, creative expression and self-esteem. Dance programs also allow students more non-classroom time during the school day, reducing burnout and enhancing learning ability.

Private schools that have added dance, sports, music and art to their curricula have often experienced the best results. Mexico’s task now is to make sure public schools have the same opportunities for improvement. The country must also ensure that it has the necessary infrastructure, technology and personnel to support its efforts.

Christina Egerstrom

Photo: Flickr