On Monday February 25, having achieved the needed support in Congress, President Enrique Peña Nieto put into effect an education reform that will transform the public education system at its core. If enacted correctly, the reform will allow the country to take important steps forward and proactively tackle one of its most relevant social issues.
The reform calls for a new autonomous government institute to be created, with the sole purpose of strengthening and professionalizing the teaching profession by establishing a talent performance system that will ensure that teaching positions are awarded based on merit and not discretional criteria. The system includes periodical evaluations for the public system teachers, a change that undoubtedly will generate resistance from teachers who have become quite comfortable in mediocrity under the protection of a backwards thinking union that is too strong and powerful for its own good.
The new institute will also be responsible for ensuring that a trustworthy database comprising numbers of schools, teachers and students is created and kept up to date. This administrative responsibility also used to be in the hands of the SNTE (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación), who kept whatever data they had away from public scrutiny.
In what can only be interpreted as a strategy to hit them while their down, one day after Peña Nieto published the reform, the country was surprised with the arrest of SNTE’s controversial and powerful leader, Elba Esther Gordillo who is facing charges for fraud, money laundering and links to organized crime.
The case being built up by the Public Attorney’s office (PGR) highlights accusations of SNTE’s money being used to pay for purchases made by Gordillo from 2009 to 2012 in the upscale store Neiman Marcus, amounting to up to $3 million. This is not the first time questionable purchases have been made with SNTE’s money but it is the first time the government has moved against the union’s leader so decisively and surely, the only way they were going to be able to get rid of this influential character, whose position as leader of the union did not have an expiration date on it.
With the new educational reform put in place and the largest obstacle for its success removed and (at least temporarily) placed in a jail cell, the future for education in Mexico seems bright as it does for PRI and Peña Nieto, who up to now has not been able to gain public sympathy or project himself as having the capabilities to lead. If Peña continues on this path and ensures that the reform results in actions with tangible results for society, PRI will have taken a huge step toward rebuilding its political machinery and consolidating its power both at state and federal levels in future elections.
If that’s what it takes to start making much needed improvements in Mexico’s education, the nation will surely welcome the return of PRI’s perfect dictatorship. Let’s hope the trade-offs (because no question, there will be major ones) are worth it.