Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Does Mexico need a new revolution?

President Peña has reform on his agenda. Not everyone does. Can reform work?

Flunking the test
The CNTE, which is smaller but far more aggressive than Mexico’s main teachers’ union, the SNTE, holds sway over four of Mexico’s most unruly states, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán and Chiapas, which contain about 15% of the population. All have large concentrations of indigenous people. Using a mixture of intimidation and political skill, the union is trying to knock down one of the pillars of Mr Peña’s government: a transformation of education that is central to a series of reforms aimed at making Mexico a more competitive economy…

The reform of 2013 is aimed at boosting the quality of education in a country that Mexicanos Primero says gives children an average of 8.8 years of study, compared with 13.3 in the United States. As in much of Latin America, most schools are awful. Graduates of teacher-training colleges have been promised jobs for life, regardless of their performance. According to PISA, a global education study, less than a fifth of Mexican students performed adequately in maths in 2012, compared with more than three-quarters in South Korea…

Imperfect as it may be, pollsters say the education reform is far more popular nationwide than others promoted by Mr Peña, such as bringing competition into the monopolistic energy and telecoms businesses. That is particularly true in the industrialised states in central and northern Mexico, where PISA scores are already well above the national average… They see better education as a way to attract more investment. The moderate SNTE largely supports the reforms, and is implementing them in most states.

In the south, where reform is needed most, resistance is strongest. Teachers there say what they need is electricity, running water and toilets, not evaluations…

Despite its extremism, the union has got its way by threatening ruinous blockades if its demands are not met…

Such statements ought to be a red rag to the federal government. The education minister, Emilio Chuayffet, declares that all children should have the same opportunities and that no state is above the law. But with mid-term elections approaching in June, the interior ministry is handling the crisis, implying that political dealmaking will win out over policy…

If militant unions can so easily undermine reform by threatening havoc, so may moderate teachers, who still wield huge influence in the states. Vested interests threatened by Mr Peña’s other reforms will also be tempted to counter-attack…

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