Lots of essential questions came to light when President of the National Institute for Educational Evaluation (INEE) Council, Professor Sylvia Schmelkes, and the other Council Members appeared before both houses of Congress recently to present their report “Educators in Mexico”. It was a key moment to write in the history of Mexican education reform.
Since the education of our students depends on the education of teachers, what’s happening with the preparation of future teachers? Why do over 60% of teachers’ college graduates fail the professional qualifying exam?
Why do so many current teachers have trouble passing the exam to qualify for permanent teaching assignments? What are we doing to improve the professional preparation of current teachers? What more can we do?
Professor Sylvia explained the simple truth. She emphasized that teachers are the fundamental pillar of Mexican education. She called on data to support her points: 59% of students in teachers’ colleges and universities come from families with incomes below the poverty level set by Coneval. They are “fragile” students with gaps in their education, “probably from an indigenous school, or a small rural school, or a community course, from a telesecundaria or a tele-high school, so they have greater difficulties in attaining academic success in teachers’ colleges.” Some come from schools that missed over 70 days every year due to teacher strikes and demonstrations. Many have to interrupt their studies due to economic and family problems.
Maslow’s principle: survival must be assured before a person can contemplate self and professional actualization. Shmelkes proposed awarding scholarships to cover living expenses, along with internships and additional academic programs so these students can have a more stable college experience.
For current elementary teachers, 364 pesos a year per person is budgeted for professional development. This amount is neither reasonable nor sufficient to pay for participation in workshops and courses. “It’s much less than what might be considered necessary. In addition, courses are provided under very inadequate circumstances”, Schmelkes told the Senators.
Professional development for secondary teachers is budgeted at a much higher rate: ten thousand pesos a year. However, the government makes savings at that level by paying over 70% of teachers exclusively for classes taught. That makes their participation on teacher committees and study groups more difficult. Investing in teacher preparation means hiring them full time or paying for extra hours when they participate in school projects and programs. Considering the savings in hiring by the hour, is ten thousand pesos per year per teacher a reasonable amount for professional development? Why not, whenever possible, hire secondary teachers full time as in primary school? Is ten thousand enough to ensure participation in working groups to help set goals and strategies to improve their school? And for participation in scheduled workshops and courses?
The INEE report shed light on what might happen if the government does not invest in preparing Mexico’s teachers. Since the requirements for entering the teaching profession have become stricter, there are fewer candidates. Additionally, there are increasing numbers of teacher retirements each year and many teachers who haven’t yet been able to pass the professional exam. The report projects that the need for new teachers sometime in the not-too-distant future will far outstrip the supply of graduates of teachers’ colleges. Investing in teacher preparation is necessary precisely because the alternative will be to confront our children and grandchildren every day with unprepared “teachers”. And wasn’t that the very thing these reforms were supposed to avoid? If quality education is a basic human right, let’s be consistent with constitutional principles and invest in the education of our educators.
Some last essential questions: how much does it cost to invest strategically in the preparation of current and future teachers, and how much will it cost in the long term not to invest in the professional development of those who hold the past, present, and future of the nation in their hands? And how can we invest strategically? Maybe Professor Sylvia can guide us.