Saturday, August 27, 2016

Private and Public Schools

I work in a private school and I wanted people to know what goes on in the Mexican system.  My school is a Catholic school and has a town trust that owns and operates the school.  I am not on the teaching staff but an external consultant and my work is not just in English but working towards creating a bilingual environment.  If you were to walk into the school it looks like another Catholic school except we no longer have religous teaching staff except for religion teachers.

There are a total of 36.9 million students in Mexican schools from Pre-K through university including both public and private  (2016-2017).  953,760 teachers support these schools with 240.000 working private educational institutions.  Out of the 263,000 schools there are 46,000 are private.  

The number of private schools continues to rise and has doubled since 1990.  Why the increase in private institutions versus public?  Number one reason is that the Mexican economy and the Mexican middle class has grown by leaps and bounds.   Another big reason is the quality of education and the teachers union.  As I am sure you've been reading, we are going through an education reform issued by the federal government and created by individuals who were chosen based on their research and investigation in the Mexican system.  The reform has pitted government, unions and teachers against each other for one very simple reason.  Teachers are now being evaluated based on performance, professional development, and overall knowledge.  There is also an additional test for English teachers.

Starting on Monday, August 22nd, many schools in four states didn't open for classes.  Students are being denied public education because of the teachers and the union.  Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan and Chiapas.  Those just happen to be the country's four poorest states.   Very sad.   In many cases, the maximum educational level achieved is 6.5 years or just exiting primary.  Why is that?  At 14, a student in Oaxaca has missed so much school due to striking teachers that they no longer see the value of education and go to work.  Last year alone, students in Oaxaca missed 100 days of classes.  How will they ever make them up?  They can't and they won't.

I have worked with both the private and public sector training English teachers.   I have to say that the attitude of many public teachers is, "I really don't care, just pay me".   In the private sector, depending on the economic and educational level of the school you will find all kinds of teachers.  Keep in mind that English has been in the curriculum since 1929 but is still not considered an official subject.  Because of that, English is never taken seriously even in some private schools.   Private schools can cost $150 (u.s.) a month to $5000 (u.s.) a month.   Trust me, there are many that fall into the $1000 (u.s.) per month level.   High tech, all English schools with one hour of Spanish and some teach a third language in secondary or high school.  A large percentage of private schools offer classes from Pre-K though secondary or high school.

With that said, there are many very good public primary and secondary schools.  What makes one better than the other?  The answer lies in the culture created by the school principal.  It takes a lot to run a public school.  A new public school receives; the property, the buildings, new furniture, and a set of teachers.  After that, the school is on its own.  It (the PTA) is required to raise funds to maintain the school building, provide air conditioners, technology tools, paint, gardening tools, etc.  

There is always fight about public schools not being free in Mexico.  The school cannot force a parent to participate in the above.  We call them quotas and the parents are required to pay an amount for each student at the beginning of the year.  There are also fund raising events throughout the year.  Don't think that a good public school is always in an upper-middle class neighborhood.  Again, it depends on your principal.  Some of the best maintained schools are in some of the poorest areas.   New schools being built in this decade are also some of the highest quality that exist today.  

Many people have a plan.  They send their kids to a private school in Pre-K, primary and secondary and then return them to a public high school so that they can save money for university studies.   Public universities run approx. 3000 pesos per month and our state university in Monterrey has 130,000 students and over 50% receive some type of scholarship and many of those pay nothing.  All private schools, by federal law, are required to provide X number of scholarships to the public.   

Our most expensive university, which happens to be in Monterrey, costs 65,000 pesos per semester.  I finished my studies in English there in 1994.  It wasn't that expensive then.  They also have a scholarship program but once a person finishes their degree, they have signed a contract to work it off at the university in administrative or teaching positions.


  1. Thanks for helping us understand the school system in Mexico. I really feel sorry for our friends that live near Puerto Escondido because both Natly and Gael aren't receiving the schooling that they should be getting because of these strikes. :-(

  2. What a thoughtful, extremely well written, post. It deserves a wider audience. I had no idea about the education system. Sad about the Oaxaca situation. Thanks!

  3. Interesting and an informative explanation. I passed it on to some friends and family who are involved in the educational system both in Mexico and the U.S. Thanks -

  4. The government response seems a tad heavy handed.

    "A Mexican reporter asked Peña Nieto about violence between police and members of a teachers union last week in the state of Oaxaca that killed eight people. The teachers were protesting controversial federal education reforms, including mandatory teacher evaluations. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Mexico City Sunday to protest what an expert has called a "brutal massacre by federal forces against peaceful protesters."

  5. I don't know of any school system that provides education that is truly "free." For some reason here in the US, a certain number of people think that a free education is guaranteed by the US Constitution. Not so. Here in SC in my county school district, we are taxed heavily on the property and house we live in to support our schools, whether or not we still have children going to those schools. In addition, block grants are provided to the states by the federal government, and the states are in charge of distributing that money to the school districts within the counties. School districts hire and fire the teachers. If a particular school district does not meet certain state standards, our state has been known to seize total control of that district to attempt to bring it up to standards. Even with all of the above, our state has some of the lowest academic scores in the nation. What I am trying to say is that money may not be the culprit in fixing the situation. Lack of interest by citizens going back for generations in educating their young people may be the culprit.

    Dee Tillotson
    Summerville, SC

  6. Dee, I hope you see this response. Your post is right on target. Here in Mexico the property tax is only .0005% versus 2.78% in San Antonio, Tx for example. Most people here never pay their property tax, it isn't enforced until the day you sell your house or pass away. Then they come to collect and there is a steep discount for paying up after all those years. But again, as you say, money isn't always the culprit but here it is a major part of the problem.

    1. Chris, in the respective Mexico states, who collects and where does the property tax money go when it is "eventually" collected, albeit a smaller amount than it should be?

      Concerning teacher evaluations, it seems there should be an easier way to produce (at least initially coming out of teaching colleges) high value and knowledgeable teachers. If the states are the ones who provide accreditation to the colleges which are there to produce teachers, frequent assessment of those colleges' curriculums and the colleges' success rate in turning out "qualified" teachers seems to me to be more beneficial, less onerous, and less time consuming than constantly testing each and every teacher. As my Grandmother often said to me, Dee, you are stomping out piss ants when elephants are running you down!" Of course, teachers should be required to participate in continuing teacher education to keep them up to date, as other professions also do the same.