Mexico Education Chief Says Overhaul Finally Winning Acceptance

  • Teacher evaluations almost complete in Chiapas, Michoacan
  • Overhaul requires commitment from next government: minister

The Mexican school-system overhaul that’s created evaluations for teachers has grown in acceptance among them, a step that could improve learning and opportunity for students in the nation’s poorer south, the country’s education minister said.

The government has evaluated 96 percent of teachers in Chiapas, Michoacan and Oaxaca, three states where resistance was strongest, Aurelio Nuno said. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration is now focused on improving school buildings and revising the curriculum, including a greater emphasis on English, he said.

Aurelio Nuno

Photographer: Adriana Zehbrauskas/Bloomberg

The overhaul faced resistance from the CNTE teachers’ union after its passage shortly following Pena Nieto’s inauguration in 2012. Teachers often traveled to Mexico City to protest, and a clash between demonstrators and police in Oaxaca last year resulted in the death of at least eight civilians. The changes in part seek to base teacher hiring and promotion on merit, ending the practice of educators selling positions to the highest bidder upon retirement and avoiding dismissal for lack of ability.

"Clearly we haven’t overcome everything, there continues to be some resistance,” Nuno, 39, said in an interview Monday night. “But the advance is clear, it’s present, and that’s something that makes us very happy and encourages us."

Global Preparation

Beyond teacher evaluations, the overhaul moves the nation’s public schools away from a system based on rote memorization to one where children actively learn, Nuno said. The government aims to have all students speak English as well as Spanish within 20 years, better preparing them to compete globally and closing the opportunity gap between those who attend expensive bilingual private schools and earn more as adults and those who rely on a public, single-language education.

Nuno is seen as a potential contender for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s presidential nomination ahead of the national election next July. He served as Pena Nieto’s chief of staff for the first years of his administration, helping negotiate the Pact for Mexico that included overhauls to education and telecommunications. Nuno was tapped to become education minister two years ago.

Asked whether he will be a candidate, Nuno downplayed his political aspirations, pointing to the “big challenge” of the education reform. “I’m convinced that this is the biggest transformation that Mexico will have going forward."

Obstacles

Nuno is polling at about the same level as Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, who also may be on the PRI’s short list, in the most recent survey published by El Financiero last week. Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio polled highest among potential PRI candidates when facing presidential aspirants from other parties with 24 percent support. Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray took 18 percent, with both Nuno and Meade at 17 percent.

The education overhaul will require a commitment from future governments to achieve its goals, and the biggest threat comes from a candidate opposed to parts of the reform, like leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, winning office next year, Nuno said. Lopez Obrador in the past has expressed support for the protesting teachers’ union. Mexico’s education system ranked last out of 34 countries for enrollment rates of high school-age students, behind Chile, Argentina and Brazil, according to a 2011 study by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"The worry now doesn’t come from the side of the union; it comes from the danger that future government’s don’t continue with this vision, this model and this public policy," he said. "That’s where the risk lies."

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