Since taking office as Mexico’s newest president, Enrique Pena Nieto has quickly made it a point to anger one of the most influential interest groups responsible for blocking Mexican progress: teachers unions. Predictably (and not unlike in our own country), the teachers unions are upset over a number of ambitious education reforms aimed at increasing accountability into Mexico’s education system.
As we have been reporting, Mexico seems poised for education reform, as evidenced by the release of last year’s documentary titled De Panzazo (loosely translated to “Barely Passing”), which exposes a decrepit Mexican public school system prone to corruption. Among the most troubling findings of the film was a decades-old practice of buying and selling teaching jobs.
Teachers unions have responded to the changes by staging large, disruptive public protests claiming that the reforms will lead to a complete privatization of the Mexican education system.
There’s scant evidence for these allegations, and the events playing out in Mexico are reminiscent of the same tactics employed in our own country when unions fear losing power and control of a system that typically favors themselves rather than the interests of the students.
Typifying the excesses of this system is Elba Esther Gordillo (known as “La Maestra”) who as head of the Mexican teachers union has amassed a fortune while living lavishly and wielding considerable influence over Mexico’s top politicians. She has ensured that the teachers unions have been exempt from oversight and accountability over the years. Meanwhile, nearly half of all Mexican high school students drop out.
Nieto’s government recently arrested Gordillo on charges of fraud and impropriety. By so doing, Nieto has sent a strong message that his administration is not afraid to prosecute a powerful force in the influence lobby.
The road for meaningful education reforms—especially those that have the teeth of enforcement—will surely get harder for Nieto, but his resolve in the next few months will provide a glimpse of what we can expect to see from our neighbors to the south. The pressure from the unions and liberal forces will surely intensify as his reforms wind through the legislative system and it will be interesting to see if Nieto can maintain his resolve in the face of mounting opposition.
On top of education reforms, Nieto is pushing for a number of ambitious reforms that would alter the important telecommunication and energy sectors. If Nieto is successful in getting these reforms through, they, too, could do wonders to spur economic growth.
The U.S. would surely benefit from even stronger bilateral relations with Mexico if our neighbor to the south improves its education system and continues to grow its economy to create opportunities for Mexicans in Mexico.