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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

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions In Mexico
The Pew Research Center reported that the number of unauthorized immigrants coming into the U.S. has stabilized at the number around 11 million, with 55 percent of immigrants coming from Mexico. In recent months, several news outlets have reported on numerous deportations and cases of illegal immigration throughout the U.S. What kind of living conditions do the Mexican people endure in Mexico if they feel that their only chance for a better life is to flee to the U.S.? More than 400,000 people were deported back to Mexico in 2016 alone. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Mexico shed light on the conditions that those returning encounter.

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Mexico

  1. There have been major strides to reduce Mexico’s poverty rate over the years. One contributing factor to the reduction of poverty has been the program Prospera that gives struggling mothers an incentive to send their children to school and provide their children with regular health screenings. However, even with programs like this one, 43.6 percent of Mexico’s population still lives in poverty.
  2. Many Mexican households resort to meals consisting of rice and beans. They are cheap, easily accessible and don’t have a short shelf-life. The National Health and Nutrition Survey conducted in 2012 revealed that as a result of poor diet, Mexican families suffer a nutritional imbalance that leads to a risk of obesity and malnutrition.
  3. Mexico has various food assistance programs for families in need. One such program is Liconsa that provides milk to families with children and to those living under the national poverty line. A study conducted comparing food assistance programs in Mexico to those in the U.S. found that food stamps can comprise half of a household’s income in the U.S., while urban programs in Mexico make up only for 3.8 percent of a family’s income.
  4. Mexico is home to some of the worlds’ most active and dangerous drug cartels. Mexico’s war on drugs has claimed the lives of 245,999 citizens from 2007 through March 2018. The year 2017 saw the highest homicide number with over 29,000 victims.
  5. Sixty-one percent of the working population in Mexico has paying jobs and this number is low considering the national employment average is 67 percent. However, those that have jobs are expected to work longer hours to afford the costs of living. Thirty percent of Mexico’s workforce has to work 50 hours or more per week to survive, and this is the reason why it is more convenient for many to work elsewhere and send money back home.
  6. Mexico’s average household income peaked at $4,169 per year in 2008. Over the last ten years, there has been a sharp decline in yearly income per household in Mexico. In 2016, Mexican households were averaging a mere $2,718 per year. In order to afford the bare minimum costs of living in Mexico, one would need to be making at least $3,193 a year.
  7. Mexico was once home to one of the world’s worst slums, Ciudad Neza, home to 1.2 million people in 2016. Ciudad Neza has been transformed into a working community that now has access to clean water and sewage systems. It is a vast improvement from the make-shift squabbles with no electricity that people used to live in. It is by no means perfect and still draws in a great deal of crime, but progress has been made giving hope to many that still live without basic necessities.
  8. At less than $4 a day, Mexico holds one of Latin America’s lowest minimum wages. Income inequality can be credited to Mexico’s wage restriction policies that attracted foreign businesses to use Mexican workers as a cheap form of labor. State taxes have also played a significant role in keeping families in poverty by not taxing its citizens based on their income level.
  9. As of 2004, Mexico has ensured that a majority of its citizens receive health care through a universal health care plan. Before its establishment, only half of the working population were covered under their employers’ health insurance. Since its formation, Seguro Popular (health coverage for all in Mexico) has gone from supporting 3.1 million people to supporting 55.6 million people.
  10. Many changes have been made to Mexico’s water supply and access to proper sanitation facilities. Ninety-six percent of people in Mexico had access to clean drinking water in 2015, a vast improvement from 82.3 percent in 1990. From 1998 to 2005, the Mexican government oversaw the expansion of its Water and Sanitation for Rural Communities program aiding 4.8 million people with clean water and sanitation.

While there is still more to accomplish, Mexico has set forth legislation and policies that have greatly improved the quality of life for many of its citizens.

In July 2018, the Mexican people elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their next president. In addressing the problem of poverty in Mexico, Obrador has promised to cut the salaries of higher paid government workers to support education for the children of Mexico and pensions for the elderly. With new leadership and fresh ideas comes promised change, and stable living conditions for all of Mexico might be on the horizon.

– Catherine Wilson
Photo: Flickr