It’s a common challenge in all of Latin America: run-down public school systems are insufficient, inadequate and outdated. Specifically in Mexico, negligence regarding education has widened the divide between the nation’s poorest and richest, leaving little hope for children graduating from public schools actually making a name for themselves and growing out of poverty. Mexico spends a larger portion of its GDP (about 5 percent) than countries like Uruguay, Chile and China, but it’s not about the amount of money spent. It’s the quality of education provided.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education (SEP) continues taking one step forward and two steps back in this regard, mainly hindered by its inability to negotiate with the ever-combatant teacher’s union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) which has become a mob of ramblers who’ve taken education hostage.
The most recent news regarding the eroding quality of our school system is an agreement reached by the SEP and SNTE on filling new teaching positions. This year the Ministry of Education and the SNTE (led by Elba Esther Gordillo) declared that candidates will be eligible to become teachers if they pass a meager 30 percent of questions on the Examen Nacional de Habilidades y Conocimientos Docentes (National Test on Teaching Skills and Knowledge).
Ironically students in Mexico need to get 70 percent or higher to pass each subject. This, however, does not seem to bother José García, a member of the Comisión Rectora de la Alianza por la Calidad de la Educación (Guiding Commission of the Alliance for the Quality of Education) of the SNTE, who blatantly defends the policies. “It’s the students who need to show they know to subject matter, not the teachers,” he says. Crazy as this may sound.
As if having a 30 percent pass grade for teachers wasn’t enough, candidates now receive a set of guidebooks to help them prepare for the test. The fact that this information is readily available online, allowed me to dig deeper into the subject and find matters to be even worse.
On the one hand, candidates are not screened from criminal records. The only documentation requested for eligibility is their university title or proof of having taken a final professional exam (depending on the grade they aspire to teach), their voter card, the CURP (a registry number), and completion of a couple of forms. These are people who are going to have unsupervised access to our children with a lasting effect on their development. You’d think somebody would want to look into their backgrounds, right?
Moreover, it is practically impossible to fail the National Test. To cite a specific example, a high school math teacher’s exam consists of 80 questions, 20 of which are actually about math. The exam is divided into four sections: curricular content (actual subject matter), scholastic competencies, logic, and ethics. It is understandable that you would want to evaluate skills to teach, think and have a moral conscience. However, the way the exam is now set up (only requiring the candidate to have the right answer on 24 of the 80 questions) a candidate to a math teaching position could score zero on subject matter and still have a very good chance of being eligible to teach it.
Add criminal deviance and a skewed view on ethics into the mix and guess what? He can still make it if he has logical thinking and just a little bit of scholastic skills!
Each question in the exam is followed by four possible answers, one of which is correct. Does it take a genius to point out that just based on simple probability candidates are going to get 25 percent of the answers right? It seems all we’re asking our future teachers to contribute is an additional 5 percent of brilliance (or luck).
It is no wonder that regardless of the amount of money being poured into education (and seeped through corruption into the unions), our students are less and less prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.