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