Much 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