The Reform Backlash

How corruption in Mexican schools led to violence

The unrest in Mexico started long before the murders of 42 students in Agualo this October. According to the BBC, the students had come to Guerrero with the intent of supporting the local teachers against job discrimination, taking part in protests that began last year in response to President Peña Nieto’s Educational Reform Law.

The law, enacted in September of 2013, requires teachers to undergo standardized certification testing and performance reviews based on merit. These tests would determine hiring and promotion of teachers and limit the power of SNTE, el Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, the primary teachers’ union in Mexico that has controlled the educational process in Mexico since 1932.

President Peña Nieto was elected in 2012 with an agenda of wide-spanning reform in criminal courts and education. The Educational Reform Law came the behest of Mexicanos Primeros, an organization that has been advocating for educational reform for many years due to the blatant corrupt practices sanctioned by the SNTE and their former president Elba Esther Gordillo, who has since been imprisoned on charges of embezzlement.

According to Borgen Magazine, teaching positions in Mexico could be “sold, inherited, or even bartered for.” In rural areas where more vocal teacher’s protests groups are from, union interests and teaching sometimes are at odds. In Oaxaca, a rural southern Mexican state, teachers have been known to take second jobs with the union and then not show up to their classrooms to teach. Final year students working on social service projects are called to substitute, or if no one is available, students are simply sent away. AQ online describes those teachers in Mexico as “maestros aviators,” or “aviator teachers” because of their frequent absenteeism in schools.

At the enactment of the bill, a subsidiary of the more massive teachers’ union, the National Worker’s Coordinating Committee, organized teacher’s protests. Teachers in Guerrero, the southwestern Mexican state where October’s murders occurred, walked off their jobs. According to the Boston Review, protests took place throughout 2013 in Mexico City. As recently as July 2014, teachers were engaged in violent protests that included the destruction of office buildings and police vehicles.

Many of the teachers believe that the reform paints them as the problem in the ailing educational system that has not put adequate emphasis on fixing the educational infrastructure. Schools in many regions, especially poorer ones like Guerrero, often lack sufficient funds to pay electricity bills.

It is not that Mexico is not spending the money on education; it is that funds are being mismanaged. According to the OECD in 2013, even though the Mexican budget allocated 6.2 percent of its 2010 budget, which is close to the OECD’s average, the government only spends about 20 percent of its GDP per capita on each student, which is 8 percent lower than the average spending of OECD nations. Most of the funds, 93.3 percent allocated for education, go to employees and administrators. This substantiates the claim of many teachers that the educational infrastructure in Mexico is being mismanaged.

Meanwhile, the quality of Mexico’s education system is suffering. According to Mexicanos Primeros, Mexico currently enrolls only 0.7 percent of its students in advanced level mathematics. Compare that to the US, which employs 9.9 percent. Many poor children and families that are affected by the lack of educational consistency are forced to look elsewhere for opportunities, often immigrating to other countries in North and South America.

After the murders of the students in Guerra and the revelations of shady government involvement, tensions are high. The focus of the outrage has shifted from the corruption in the educational system toward the complicity of the government in violence. But Mexico’s students still need education reform. This tension continues to put stress on the already ailing and corrupted educational system in Mexico and on its citizens, who still wait for answers.