Already in the early 1990s, close to 88% of adults in Mexico were literate, then a very high proportion of being in a developing country. In 2010, just over 94% of adult men and close to 92% of adult women could read and write. The compulsory schooling has been twelve years since 2012, from the age of 5 to 17, but for various reasons it is still being filled by less than half of the young people.
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There are a number of serious problems in the field of education in Mexico: low teaching quality, dropout already in primary school, a small proportion continuing to post-secondary education and secondary education for non-Spanish speakers, and extensive corruption among teachers. Therefore, despite the high literacy, the low level of education is now a constraint for continued economic growth. In the OECD’s evaluation of 15-year-olds skills in reading, mathematics and nature-oriented subjects in 2009 (PISA-09), Mexico came in 51st among 65 participating countries. In the spring of 2013, the parliamentary treatment of a package of reforms aimed at improving the quality of the Mexican school is underway.
Virtually all children are enrolled in the six-year primary school. Public schools dominate, only about 10% of children attend private schools. A national curriculum applies in all states. Schooling is free for Mexican citizens, textbooks as well, while school uniform is a cost to parents. Virtually all Spanish-speaking children become literate, but many quit after a few years of schooling.
Admission to the three-year lower secondary school requires an approved entrance exam, and in 2010, only 62% of all children of that age could continue there. Even at this stage, dropouts are common. This is one reason why just over half of all in one year continue to the three-year, higher secondary school (equivalent to our high school). This education is often linked to the state universities, which has meant that it is mainly found in the big cities. The 2012 decision to make higher education compulsory mainly meant that the state promised to establish schools so that all young people should be given an education. Today, only 45% of all young people in one year complete high school. This is the lowest proportion of all the 34 OECD countries.
At the beginning of the 1990s, a decision was made to gradually implement a three-year, compulsory preschool that will cover fifteen hours a week. A very large shortage of educational staff and premises makes the implementation delayed. In 2013, however, 95% of five-year-olds are estimated to be enrolled in a preschool, a large part of the four-year-olds and also some three-year-olds. The compulsory schooling then began at the age of five. A shortage of resources means that a preschool group can cover up to fifty children. Most important is the preschool considered to be in non-Spanish speaking areas, where it makes the children familiar with the Spanish language before they start in primary school. Bilingual teaching in preschool and primary school occurs to some extent (2012) in some fifty of the 68 officially recognized national (Native) languages.
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One reason for the low quality of undergraduate education is widespread corruption among teachers. The teaching profession has been very strong and has had full control over both education policy and local level decisions. Teachers could have lifelong employment that could be inherited or sold and purchased without regard to competence. No form of control and review of their teaching and their presence has been lacking. As there is also no tradition for parents to get involved in the schooling of children, there has also been no social control that has been able to prevent such abuses. Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office as president in December 2012, was the first important program point to break the power of the teachers’ union and reform the school by strengthening state supervision of the education field. Another change that has been decided is that the state,
Higher education in Mexico has roughly the same structure as in the United States. Four years of basic studies give a BA degree, followed by two years of studies for the master’s degree and then a few years of doctoral studies. According to a 2011 UNESCO survey, only 11% of all people aged 20-29 studied. One explanation for the low percentage is that young people do not see higher studies as something to invest in; also highly educated people risk getting low wages or becoming unemployed.
In Mexico, there are both federal and state and private higher education institutions. Of the 43 state universities (2013), most are autonomous, ie. they decide for themselves entirely on business and finances. There are also 36 stately technical colleges and six government research centers. There are also 44 private universities and some private technical colleges. Most of the research is conducted within the major state universities. Most notable is the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM, with 213,000 post-secondary students (2012), of which more than 26,000 on masters and doctoral programs. UNAM ranks as Latin America’s fifth largest university but is not among the top 150 in the world (2012). Almost as high ranking is the private Technológico de Monterrey, which is financed by non-profit business organizations.
Mexico also has more than 450 colleges for teacher education at all levels and hundreds of state colleges with special focus, for example in the arts, archeology and defense systems. To a certain extent to remedy the lack of schools in remote rural areas, distance education has been used for a long time with the help of TV and now also a special university for online studies.