Education in Latin America

A Disaster Foretold

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The commentary has been definitive: “an educational disaster”; “formal education in Mexico couldn’t be worse”. All the important Mexican educational columnists seem to agree about the results of the recent standardized PLANEA tests administered to students in their senior year of high school.

Here are some selected comments:

  • “Of the one million sixteen thousand students who took the test, only 124 thousand came out at the level where all our students should be”….”the exams tell us what we expected, and the media accuse the teachers”. (Gil Antón)
  • Hernández Eugenio laments the “media-led lynching to which teachers have been subjected, without a clear idea of the complexities of the profession”.
  • “In summary, the results of PLANEA MS are a horror show, but one of which we had ample warning.” (Heredia)

Long story short, the results of PLANEA are no different from those of earlier tests like PISA in 2012, which placed Mexican students at the bottom of OECD countries, sparking a national debate about the competitiveness of the Mexican work force and a far-reaching legal and constitutional reform in education. PLANEA confirms that only 12% of students in Mexico have adequate academic skills. And since there is little understanding of what these figures mean and no coherent remedial plans have been developed, the news media tends to blame teachers.

It’s not surprising that the results of PLANEA are no better than those of earlier tests.   Teachers have not yet been organized to implement specific actions designed to impact student learning. However, it’s important to recognize the efforts that have been made.

Little by little, an educational system that didn’t allow change, a monster that immutably swallowed improvement initiatives, has been changed. Any teacher taking responsibility for student learning was looked at with suspicion, and new and permanent teaching positions were assigned on the basis of political loyalties rather than the ability to promote student learning. A school leader trying to initiate change to improve academic levels most often experienced frustration and bitter disappointment.

The advent of student and teacher evaluation assumes that teachers stimulate student learning and educational leaders promote optimum performance of the school-based team of teachers through organization, coordination and evaluation. What one teacher can do to change an entire educational system is limited. But now the system is changing. Students are being evaluated with standardized instruments like PLANEA and a number of other indicators, and teachers are also evaluated. We can begin to cultivate the hope that teachers will do everything possible to get students to learn.

The wait continues for education authorities to support school leaders in working together with teachers to organize local school improvement plans centered on student learning. These improvement plans should be based on a deep analysis of student learning data and stakeholder surveys. Until this occurs, don’t expect better results on PLANEA, or PISA, or any other measure of educational performance. Making change possible is not the same as making it happen.


Author: ejspin

He sido Director General de Colegios Internacionales en Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay y Venezuela y he participado en reforma educativa en todos estos paises. Middle School Principal en Estados Unidos. Doctorado en Liderazgo Educativo. Actualmente vivo en México.

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