By Mariel Navarro
The economic crisis has forced governments from all around the globe to carefully revise their budgets – generating, as usual, a debate over where the greatest cuts should be implemented. Also in Latin America, the crisis has swept over countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile. It is not hard to remember the demonstrations in Brazil against the raise of the public transport costs last summer. Or the Chilean and Argentinean caserolazos (literally translated as “pot-hitting”) over the quality and budget of national education.
Another country has joined in resource restricting: Mexico. Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, has announced a series of reforms that limits the amount of money destined for education, culture and arts. Also, these laws seek to diminish the government’s responsibility in preserving schools and providing class materials, and decrease teachers’ rights for absences and other social security benefits.
Besides, the reform aims to standardize the teachers’ preparation level by having them take a test. Even if this is a general requirement in many other educational systems, it has never been so in Mexico. A test may sound like a good idea, but let’s not forget the driver’s license example: bribery during the exams got so bad, that the government decided to cancel all tests and grant every citizen over 18 years a license upon request. Government-dissenting teachers fear they may never pass the exam or that they will have to pay to get a teaching spot.
On top of that, the reform concerning parental empowerment is written in tricky language. It gives parents the right to assembly and work hand-in-hand with the principals and teachers as an organization, but it also assigns the duty of preserving or obtaining new school material to them. Yet again, the questions remains how the government will interpret this point: will it apply this as a shortcut to wash its hands of school maintenance?
The government-opposed teachers’ union CNTE (National Educational Workers Coordination) has been on strike for over six weeks. The Mexican state of Oaxaca has been affected the most by this, with over 1.3 million elementary school students stuck at home because schools are closed. UNAM’s (Mexico’s biggest public university) students are also suffering from the consequences of these laws. Even if the reform does not contemplate any change to the middle and high education systems, a great number of university professors joined the strike as a proof of solidarity to CNTE members. Several buildings of UNAM’s Philosophy, History and Political Science faculties were taken over by strikers, preventing students from attending classes. Additionally, groups of CNTE members have been demonstrating in Mexico City’s streets, paralyzing the city´s traffic and airport already more than once.
Still, not everything in Latin America is bad news. Uruguay’s president, José Mújica, has delivered a most touching and enlightening speech before the United Nations. In educational terms, the 1990s Uruguayan reforms aimed at the improvement of the education. Hopefully, Uruguay is now gaining leadership in Latin America for a more amicable, progressive and educationally-friendly future.