How can we change education so our young people become proactive, creative entrepreneurs and lifelong learners; agents of economic growth in Mexico? The key is for them to participate as protagonists in their own education. Achieving this will require changing traditional relationships of control and domination.
Year after year, recent teachers’ college graduates arrive at their first teaching assignment, with ink still fresh on their diplomas and vivid memories of their student days. Their professors were powerful possessors of truth and educational knowledge. In universities and teachers’ colleges, many begin, few graduate, professors decide. Without professors’ blessings, no student moves on.
When the time comes to take his or her place in front of a classroom full of students, the new teacher likely finds them to have very diverse needs and abilities. Many show no interest in the class nor any sign of openness to learning. The rookie feels insecure, and can likely find no experienced teacher willing to act as mentor. It’s time to “sink or swim”. To control the group, he or she may end up donning the same mantle of authority and trying to reproduce the same relationships of control and domination that were learned so well as a student. For the purpose, he/she adopts the traditional model of dictating the class and requiring students to take notes, then memorize and give back information on a test.
With no support from other teachers who might help guide him or her to organize classes differently, the new teacher also faces the daunting task of “covering” the Mexican government curriculum that for many years now has been filling up with new objectives with no weeding of the old ones until it has become practically impossible to study in a school year. In response, the traditional “stand and deliver” technique has some distinct advantages. It is the most efficient at covering an extensive curriculum, whether or not students are actually learning. And it reinforces the teacher’s power to evaluate, grade, and decide who passes through the gates. So Mexican education stays tied to ineffective nineteenth century methods which bore and alienate modern students. Too many are lost. Only 47 per cent graduate from high school, last place among 65 countries participating in OECD comparisons. The ones who finally do graduate tend to be those most willing to submit to and perpetuate traditional relationships of control and domination.
Evaluation of Mexican teachers has previously reproduced the same patterns and relationships. Silvia Schmelkes, Director of the National Institute of Educational Evaluation (INEE) stated: “There is no observed relationship between evaluation and professional development…. Evaluation has been understood as control rather than feedback for improvement of performance.” If it’s possible to change how students are educated, it has to start with how teachers (including professors in teachers’ colleges) are evaluated. Coaching teachers on modeling the habits and attitudes of a lifelong learner and encouraging different ways to demonstrate learning could help them develop enhanced relationships with students and convince more young people to stay in school.