Education reform in Mexico has led to a national teachers’ strike that threatens not only the future of Mexican students, but the country’s economy.
sAugust 22nd was intended to be the first day of school for the children in Mexico’s public schooling system. Yet, after months of protests which have led to lost lives, lost revenue, and widespread insecurity, the teachers’ protests continue to affect many states in the south of Mexico. Though the lack of a stable education imposed on many Mexican children can have devastating consequences in the long term, the months of protests have already had immediate and significantly negative economic consequences.
The state of education in Mexico
Since coming to power in the year 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has launched a series of structural reforms to include educational reform. The policy seeks to improve what is considered among the worst public educations provided in an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nation. Along with other changes, the educational reform has created an annual exam to evaluate the knowledge and expertise of all teachers.
In the previous Mexican public education system, the teachers would be guaranteed a teaching position for life and not be examined to determine their qualifications or lack thereof. This lead to a system where instructors would not make an effort to actually ensure the education of their students. Aside from a lack of methodology to examine the qualifications of the instructors, corruption in Mexico’s public education system has led to a widespread misuse of already constrained funds.
After the reform was approved in early 2013, a group of leaders from a teachers’ union in Mexico called the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) have engaged in a number or protests, roadblocks, boycotts, and marches to oppose the reform. The members of CNTE’s 22nd section—covering the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico—argue that the reforms only seek to discriminate against teachers, who are being relocated or fired after taking the newly instated exam for instructors.
The protesters say the reform does not improve the education system, but rather create harsher conditions for teachers.The confrontations with the government have mainly taken place in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, Chiapas, and Mexico City.
The consequences of these roadblocks and protests have been economic, affecting businesses inside Mexico as well as Mexico’s image abroad. The protesters have blocked highways leading to Mexico’s southern border and Pacific Ocean ports, which greatly affect exports to Central America. The roadblocks have also affected these areas as many basic imports such are gasoline and food are unable to reach Mexican soil.
Some businesses in the area have suspended all economic activity for lack of materials, lack of available routes of transportation, and a generalized environment of fear which leads to a lack of clients. Tourism, which is a very profitable industry for many of these states, is also being affected by the insecurity and instability of the region.
Many organizations representing Mexico’s private sector have urged the government to re-establish public order and guarantee the rights of people as well as businesses. It is estimated that the economic losses have cost over $400 million in lost revenue. The lack of progress in talks with Federal Government’s Secretariat for Public Education has led many private sector leaders to demand that the government take lawful measures against the protestors, including firing those who refuse to comply with their teaching jobs or disturb the public order.
Prospects and outlook
While President Peña Nieto continues to push in favor of the reforms, the protesters remain insistent on their position—leaving the hopes of soon reaching an agreement are dire. The President argues that so long as the teachers do not comply with their job and reopen the schools for the new school year, the prospects of sitting at the negotiation table will remain closed.
Meanwhile, the protests have already resulted in deaths and wounded civilians after confrontations with government security forces this past June. The opposition candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has stated their support for the protesters; the protesters continue to claim that they are unaffiliated with any political party.
As the protests intensify and a solution seems further away, the risk of unlawfulness, violence, and losses to the private sector will continue to grow. The CNTE has threatened the government by saying that they will create a situation of ungovernability for the whole country unless their demands to reverse the reform are met.
The private sector is becoming increasingly worried and desperate for a solution. With over 28,000 businesses affected just in Mexico City, the threat of capital flight are ever more present. If Mexico wants to retain its image of a stable, progressive, and business-friendly nation, it must prioritize the rule of law and ensure the conditions necessary for business to take place.