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We don’t need no education…

9 May 2014

Everyone knows there is a problem with Mexican education, but before making radical changes, maybe it’s not a bad idea to find out what the problems are, exactly, and where there is need for change.  Pablo Zoido, a researcher for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), uncovered one challenge to improving Mexican education that has been overlooked, and one that reflects poorly on the assumptions made by the business elites in this country in their hiring practices.

Not surpringly, Mexican university graduates score lower than their peers in other OECD countries on standized math tests.  BUT, what is noteworthy is that graduates of the elite PRIVATE universities have scores significantly below those of Mexican graduates as a whole.  That is, students from poorer families, who attend public universities, or lower cost “no name” schools, are only a grade behind their peers in other OECD countries, while those from wealthy families are two grades behind.

And… as Blanca Herida noted in El Financiero (the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal of Mexico), this is a problem for the Mexican businesses, which give preference to graduates from those elite schools (my rough translation)

The extremely mediocre educational performance of our richer students is of concern for three reasons. First, it suggests that in a country where social origin generally far outweighs merit and talent , for higher income groups investing time and effort in education appears to be much less important than for those with less income.  Second, if our rich don’t give importance to investing in education, we are left with an elite that invests in maintaining its privilege position via means other than merit and talent (long meals, strategic marriages and through political power over knowledge, innovation and labor) . And third, because  of what it this says about what it takes to ” make it” economically and socially tends to militate against arguing there is value in study and works against the interests of the entire population. 


Somehow, I knew this.  I had an unusual private student several years ago, from an extremely wealthy (and dysfunctional) family.  The guy had joined the Army (not something the elites normally do) simply to get away from his overly protective mother (who, naturally, expected she could send his maid along to clean up his bunk while he was in basic training!) and who later went out and found himself some real jobs.  Of course, he continued to benefit from his social connections and status, at one point taking a job teaching calculus in an elite prep school, where the students expected high marks based on their family connections and background rather than actually learning anything about differential equations.  The students had no problem offering teachers a bribe if necessary, which my acquaintance — with an independent income and not dependent on the miserable salary paid even to prep school teachers — was in a position to turn down.  Although, as one might expect, flunking the rich kids cost him his job.

Mexico’s educational problems may not entirely be the fault of the teachers (as the present and previous administration have tried to claim), nor of a lack of resources, but of our expectation for teachers, and how we allocate our resources.   One accepts that the rich will always be with us, and that the rich are different than you and I… but, does having been born rich entitle you to remain rich without talent or study?

One Comment leave one →
  1. 9 May 2014 7:33 am

    This fits with what I know about the privileged classes here. I support an intelligent and hard-studying university student here, and he knows he will have to buck the assumed and real privileges of the wealthier here when it comes to finding a position where he can be effective in bringing solutions to some of Mexico’s problems.

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