I just love the grandiose ceremonial manner in which Mexican authorities present government programs.
This was the case last Monday when President Enrique Peña Nieto and Education Secretary Aurelio Nuño officially introduced the “new education model” which will start being implemented as of school year 2016-2017 starting next August. It aims at finishing once and for all the “educational backlog” the system has accumulated over the last revamping 60 years ago; that is, procrastination, bureaucracy (lots of it) and teaching under ancient pedagogy methodology.
A novelty is the new “system” will be to make the obligatory teaching of English from elementary to high school in a sequential manner so that by the time the kids finish the obligatory education they speak English reasonably well.
I mention teaching English among many other changes included in three tedious-to-read volumes containing what the system “will be,” given the impossibility of carrying them out right away. For English alone they’d need thousands of specialized teachers that just aren’t around.
But if students don’t learn English, it will not be too bad. The real problem the Mexican educational system has is confronting its sheer size and this was something neither President Peña Nieto nor Secretary Nuño seem to have taken into consideration in their “gobernanza” (the fashionable word meaning, of course, governance) from the heavenly clouds.
A bird’s eye view of the coverage of the “gobernanza” of the Public Education Secretariat (SEP) shows that it covers 34 million students, who are taught by over two million teachers in 260,000 school buildings, provided, of course, that schools have buildings.
In their flowery and I am sure, well-meaning speeches, Peña and Nuño did not even mention the “Education Reform” approved by Congress in 2013 that turned into a nightmare for them. It aroused one segment of the teachers — the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) union — who staged street, road, airport, railway and teaching blockades to protest against it.
The CNTE revolt forced drafting this new document which includes all the needs teachers face when confronting their students, principally those belonging to the 56 different ethnic groups who still preserve their native languages.
This time the change has come to those schools as teachers can come up with their custom fit text books to meet the needs of native indigenous pupils, particularly in elementary schools where many of those kids don’t speak Spanish, only the ethnic tongue they were raised on.
So if this is not an “Education Reform” then what is it? President Peña Nieto changed his verbal addressing of the subject during the presentation ceremony in these terms: “Mexico calls upon teachers, education authorities and parents to carry out the most important education revolution in almost a century. I summon you, I invite you, I admonish you to take on the part corresponding to you in this historic moment.”
What is valid about this new document is that it is the result of a public consultation that began last August and the opinions of parents and teachers were taken into consideration and sometimes included either verbatim or by inference. So at least is not, as was the Education Reform of 2013, imposed from the top.
Says education commentary writer Carlos Ornelas in daily Excelsior that this educational model is neither “a panacea nor a placebo” and that it will not solve the ancient woes of the SEP which are low quality teaching, inequity to children, bureaucracy and corruption overnight — not even in the midterm — “but points a viable route to attack difficulties.”
The document does include policies and education systems improvement guidelines suggested by the Organization of American States, UNICEF as well as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Education revolution? Historic moment? Time will tell. Peña and Nuño have but one adamantly insufficient school year left in power to put it into practice.