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A Young Political Star in Mexico Takes on a Major Battle: Fixing the Nation's Schools

Joshua Partlow - The Washington Post
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April 7, 2016

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, right, confers with Education Secretary Aurelio Nuño Mayer during a visit to Rodolfo Menendez Primary School in central Mexico City. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Mexico’s hard-charging education secretary, Aurelio Nuño Mayer, has thrown teachers-union leaders in jail, deployed federal police to guard teacher-testing sites, fired thousands of instructors and raised money to renovate 33,000 schools. All in less than a year.

Mexico may be one of the world’s 20 biggest economies, but its dysfunctional education system is holding it back, officials and analysts say. To turn it around, Nuño hopes to make teaching more of a meritocracy, while taking on the powerful teachers unions long blamed for the poor results.

“The great battle of Mexico in the 20th century was education coverage, to extend schools all around the country,” said Javier Treviño, the deputy education secretary. “Now the great battle of the 21st century is quality.”

But education reform is especially risky for the 38-year-old Nuño, who came to the job after serving as President Enrique Peña Nieto’s chief of staff. The president’s party has relied on support from teachers unions for decades. A backlash by educators could tip the balance in favor of opposition parties in the next presidential election, which is set to be held in 2018. If the reform works, though, it could position Nuño as a successor to Peña Nieto and keep the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in power.

Mexico’s education system has long been troubled. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported this year that 55 percent of Mexican 15-year-olds were low performers in math, compared with an average of 23 percent in the 34 leading economies in the OECD. Mexico had similarly poor performances in reading and science. At the same time, it spends more on education as a percentage of total public expenditure than any other OECD country, according to a 2015 education report.

Read the rest at The Washington Post

Related: In Mexico, Teachers Fight Reforms Familiar to Those North of the Border (The Washington Post)

  Check out Public Schools in Puerto Vallarta

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