As the OECD recognized in its latest Education Policy Outlook, Mexico’s educational performance has evidently improved in recent years. Nevertheless, when the current Mexican Government, headed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, first took office in December 2012, it was clear that our country faced many challenges in this and other key areas to promote greater economic growth and improve social welfare.
But, first, a consensus had to be reached among the main political forces in order to move forward decisively, and rapidly. Fortunately, the Mexican Government and the three largest political parties represented in Congress were able to agree on a shared agenda that became known as the “Pact for Mexico”.
The Pact was an essential element in our ability at the Mexican Congress —of which, I must say, before my current appointment as Education Undersecretary I was part, as a Federal Representative from my native state of Nuevo León— to discuss, negotiate, agree upon, and finally pass eleven transformative reforms, in areas ranging from law enforcement to economic competition, telecommunications, energy, and —of course—, education.
As you can see, the National Education System faced several challenges that needed to be efficiently addressed, in order to achieve better educational results and fully develop student skills.
Although in recent years Mexico conducted a systematic expansion of educational services, reaching almost universal enrolment in primary and lower secondary education, as well as significant advances in pre-school and upper secondary education, this effort proved insufficient in terms of quality and equitable access to education.
In 2012, Mexican 15-year-old students scored 413 points, on average, on the PISA mathematics assessment, an increase of 28 points since PISA 2003 and among the biggest improvement for OECD countries. However, the available evidence shows that the educational outcomes are still far from satisfactory.
The difference between the averages obtained in PISA by Mexican students and the OECD average represent a distance of almost two years of schooling. In terms of equity, significant differences also persist between regions in Mexico, considering that in areas with higher poverty levels and large indigenous population, schooling access is still limited.
The education reforms undertaken in previous years unfortunately didn’t have the desired positive impact. Diagnoses consistently showed that, to break with inertia, it was necessary to modify inadequate teachers’ union practices, professionalize teachers, incorporate transparent evaluation mechanisms, develop better tools for managing schools and the education system as a whole, and provide suitable teaching and learning conditions through timely school maintenance.
All of these factors ultimately “triggered” the need to promote a substantial education reform, that aims at laying a solid foundation, with all the necessary elements, to seriously improve the quality and strengthen the equity of the entire National Education System.
The education reform that was passed in Mexico, began with a Constitutional amendment that also required legislative initiatives regarding three major secondary laws: the amendment of the General Law of Education, the enactment of the Law for the National Institute for Educational Evaluation, and the approval of the General Professional Teaching Service Law.
The key of the reform was to incorporate, as a constitutional right, quality education for all. This introduced two key requirements for the Mexican State: quality —evidently—, and also equity.
Above all, the reform established that the school should be at the very center of the educational system, and that the work of all the authorities should focus on strengthening their autonomy and ability to perform the task of forming well-prepared citizens.
To ensure quality, it was decided that it was necessary to review the whole educational model, including its plans, programs and methods.
The reform underscores the central work of the teachers. Thus, one of its main aspects is addressing the need to improve teaching professionalization.
This will be achieved through the creation of the Professional Teaching Service, which includes competitive examinations for admission, transparent processes for promotion and retention, as well as training mechanisms for continuous professional development.
To strengthen our assessment capacities, the National Evaluation System was created and the National Institute of Educational Evaluation was granted full autonomy, while setting distinct responsibilities for all authorities involved in the periodic evaluation of students, teachers, and the entire educational system.
Regarding management, the System for Education Information and Management (SIGED) was created, to include all available information of the education sector in a single platform, to support schools and authorities in their administrative tasks and educational planning.
Now, in relation to the actual implementation of our education reform, a key component to ensure the quality of education is that all plans, programs, educational methods and materials should be fully articulated.
As I mentioned, the reform also established that the authorities should conduct a thorough review of the whole educational model. This review included an extensive national consultation, through 18 forums and the online reception of proposals and analysis on relevant issues for improving basic education, upper secondary education, and teachers’ colleges.
In 2015 the new educational model will incorporate the pedagogical and organizational elements that were proposed by society and revised by specialists. In this sense, it will be a guide to support the work of authorities, managers, teachers, parents, and society in general.
The reform also focused on strategies to foster greater equity and inclusion in the National Education System. In fulfillment of its compensatory role, the federal educational authority operates an extensive and diversified program of scholarships to help address inequality-related challenges. Thus, currently 7.6 million Mexican students across primary, secondary and tertiary education are benefitted with a scholarship.
A specific goal of the Mexican government is to achieve an 80% enrolment rate in upper secondary, and a 40% enrolment rate in tertiary education.
In order to achieve greater inclusion in education and extend enrolment to population sectors that face difficult conditions to study because of issues like living in remote locations, the open and distance education system is being expanded and strengthened, integrating several public institutions and supporting existing ones, thus offering a flexible option that aims at lowering dropout rates, particularly in upper secondary and tertiary education.
Also, new projects are being implemented to include a growing number of people with disabilities across all educational levels, particularly by investing in infrastructure and special equipment.
At the same time, intercultural education and bilingual education is being strengthened for Mexican populations who speak native languages, based on programs that take into consideration Mexico’s multicultural reality.
Finally, schools with greater lag have been precisely identified, in order to focus on their proper attention, and provide them with specific maintenance through the various programs that the federal government is implementing for this purpose.
The reform centers on teachers as a key component in the educational process, and therefore in improving the overall quality of education. This is why a key aspect of the reform was to establish the Professional Teaching Service, in order to provide clear rules and benchmarks for this career.
The National Coordination of Professional Teaching Service is the authority responsible for implementing the Competitive Examinations for Entry to the Teaching Service, including assessments for promotion and recognition, as well as the necessary requirements for retention.
All of this is being implemented in accordance with fair mechanisms, based on clearly defined standards and transparent evaluation parameters, to objectively demonstrate the suitability of each teacher.
First entrance examinations were conducted on July of 2014, giving way to a transparent allocation of posts strictly based on merit.
In basic education, 11,773 full-time posts and 56,828 by-the-hour posts were contested and assigned, with a total of 130,168 participants.
In upper secondary education, 2,612 full-time teacher posts, 75,496 by-the-hour posts, and 445 school director positions were contested, with the a total of 41,916 participants.
The reform instructed that educational authorities should provide free regularization programs and continuous training of teachers, and create new opportunities for the professional development of teachers, principals and supervisors — an effort that is being implemented in coordination with local authorities.
The reform also led to the creation of the National System of Educational Evaluation, which will be coordinated by the National Institute of Educational Evaluation (INEE, because of its acronym in Spanish).
This Institute was granted full autonomy, and the reform defined the respective responsibilities of both federal and local education authorities, as all have to work in a coordinated way to articulate the assessments of students, teachers, and the whole educational system.
Currently, the mechanisms and assessment tools are being revised in order to adequately address the issue of accountability, and provide timely information that can improve the teaching and learning processes, as well as the professionalization of teachers and of decision-making.
In accordance with one of the main goals of the reform, that is, strengthening the autonomy and efficient management of educational centers, in March of 2014 the Guidelines for formulating School Management Programs were published.
These guidelines aim at facilitating all actions included in three federal programs —the Education Reform Program, the Full-time Schools Program, and the Quality Schools Program— that benefit 85 thousand schools, representing 42.5% of the total in the basic education system.
Through these programs, the concept of autonomous schools in terms of decision-making for the improvement of the educational service is being promoted and implemented.
Technical School Councils were also included in all primary and lower secondary schools. These councils are a collegiate body that, in joint responsibility with the educational authorities, monitor and ensure the fulfillment of education goals.
With the same purpose, the local education authorities are being encouraged to implement the Technical Assistance Service to School (SATE), so that schools systematically receive institutional and professional support to strengthen their work.
Simultaneously, the Safe School Program is being implemented, with a new focus on improving learning environments by ensuring safe and peaceful conditions at schools and their surrounding areas, while also preventing bullying-related issues.
The reform also mandates that full-time schools will be gradually established throughout the basic education system. The Full Time Schools Program not only considers extending classes; it also aims at making sure that those extended hours are productively used to improve school management and teaching practices.
Since the beginning of the current administration, Full Time Schools have grown from close to six thousand, to 23 thousand in the present academic year of 2014-2015.
In the upper secondary education level, a major initiative against dropout is being implemented. It includes an early warning system, mentoring programs, mechanisms that facilitate the transit between modalities and educational services, risk prevention, preventive communication with parents, and induction programs.
The reform mandated a National Census of Schools, Teachers and Students of the Pre-Primary, Primary, Lower Secondary and Special Education System (CEMABE), a first-of-its-kind effort in Mexico, which was completed in 2013.
The information derived from this census allowed to quickly identify schools with deficiencies in physical infrastructure and needs of additional teachers.
Actions aimed at reducing the lag in the physical conditions of the schools are already being taken, either through the direct allocation of financial resources to the schools included in the Educational Reform Program, or by works through the Dignified School Program. For these purposes, both programs have received additional resources in the current annual budget.
Also, in order to improve learning conditions, the Mexican government launched the Inclusion and Digital Literacy Program, which included delivering free electronic tablets to students in the fifth grade of public elementary schools for their personal and family use.
By providing these technological resources to children, new forms of learning and instruction are strengthened and, at the same time, it helps to lower the digital gap within the students’ families and their communities.
As of the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year, over 700 thousand tablets have been delivered in six Mexican states.
Finally, the Constitutional reform included parents as a fundamental part of the National Educational System, and considered their active involvement through the Councils of Social Participation, which operate at the federal, state and school levels.
The new legal framework allows them to know, among other things, the qualifications and professional trajectory of the teaching staff, the criteria and the results of the evaluations, and the budget allocated to the school, while facilitating their partnering with school authorities to focus on solving specific problems.
As I said before, the reform mandated the creation of a System for Education Information and Management (SIGED). Its operation through a single, easy-to-use platform, will allow authorities, and the public in general, to access information that will facilitate the planning, management and evaluation of the whole national educational system.
The SIGED was launched in November of last year. It includes existing education information data, and incorporated the results of the National Census of Schools, Teachers and Students of the Pre-Primary, Primary, Lower Secondary and Special Education System.
Also, the database of the SIGED will record all the information related to teaching posts, including the Payroll Contributions Education Fund and Operational Expenses (FONE), which was created to better manage the teacher payment system.
In accordance with the mandate of the reform that establishes the centralization of teachers’ payment, last year the federal government worked with all the 31 state education authorities in the country to update the payroll information.
This ongoing process will help provide more transparency to the federal education expenditures, it will facilitate communication between the educational authorities at the federal and state levels, and —equally important— it will also foster greater accountability.
As you all know, any structural reform —and certainly a far-reaching education reform like the one I have just described— is by definition a long a complex process, involving successive implementation stages with constant challenges that need to effectively addressed.
In our case, the reforms to the legal framework were the first step to begin the transformation of our entire education system, and entailed building a social and political consensus around innovative proposals.
Now, we are fully dedicated to its implementation, and even though we still face significant challenges, I want to reassure you of our unwavering commitment to provide quality and equitable education for the Mexican people.