As we continue demanding increased accountability to improve the struggling U.S. educational system, a new documentary being released in movie theaters across Mexico about its struggles to raise academic achievement is an encouraging step to raise awareness for a better educated and prepared workforce to compete in a tough job market.
Opening in theaters all across Mexico, the documentary titled De Panzanzo—loosely translated to “Barely Passing”—is a hard-hitting film exposing the sorry state of the Mexican public school system. According to the film, roughly 54 out of every 100 Mexican students will fail to receive a high school diploma. As a result, Mexicans, on average, spend only about 8.6 years in school. In other countries, such as Norway and Canada, students average about 13.2 years in school.
You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand that failing to receive a high school diploma severely hampers one’s ability to find high-paying jobs. We know that in our own country, not graduating from high school virtually guarantees a life in poverty and a dependence on the welfare state.
In Mexico, many of the least educated often look to emigrate as a way of improving their lives and providing their children with better prospects for a life out of destitution.
Compounding the problem is that a majority of Mexicans don’t realize or appreciate the severity of their country’s educational crisis. According to the director of the film, Mexicans think highly of their school system and believe that their children are getting a quality education.
What’s behind the poor state of the Mexican public school system?
The answer, among other things, is a familiar one: little accountability, careless spending, little competition, and a powerful teachers union that is more concerned with protecting teachers than student educational achievement.
Led by its powerful president, Elba Esther Gordillo (known simply as “La Maestra” or the teacher), the union works behind the scenes to ensure that Mexican politicians agree to her demands in exchange for her political and monetary support. Gordillo’s tactics have worked splendidly in helping to secure generous salaries, benefits, and tenure for Mexican teachers.
Many of the same problems confronting Mexico’s educational system are issues we face here at home.
Film is a powerful medium to convey an important message, and that is precisely why this new film is a welcome breath of fresh air in the effort to ensure that children are placed above the needs of powerful political interests.
Here’s hoping that this documentary encourages education reform—wherever it is desperately needed.
Israel Ortega is the Editor of Heritage Libertad, www.libertad.org, the Spanish language website of The Heritage Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega