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Exclusion and quality are major challenges to Mexico’s educational system, warns UN expert

MEXICO CITY (18 February 2010) – “Mexico faces two big challenges in the educational field: to end the exclusion that its educational system generates and to raise the education quality to all levels and population groups,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, at the end of his official visit to the country, from the 8 to 18 February 2010*.
The UN independent expert noted the achievements accomplished by the Federal government and federal entities in every education area and discipline. However, he warned that “big asymmetries exist in the structure itself, something generalized to the whole Latin American region, such as the inequalities between rural and urban regions, between the states, between private and public schools and between the present population groups.”
“Social asymmetries cannot be incidentally solved; neither can it be expected that compensation programs and subsidies would resolve structural problems of discrimination and social exclusion of indigenous peoples, rural populations, laborers and their families and disabled peoples who have been traditionally excluded,” the UN envoy said.
With at least seven million illiterate people in the country (most of them, young and adult indigenous women living in the rural areas, and with illiterate levels reaching 50% of the population in some communities) and an untold number of functional illiteracy, government’s efforts still fall short, Mr. Muñoz Villalobos said.
The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the number of children left out from the school system: only 66 out of 100 children finish primary school, and school desertion in mid-superior education is close to 35%, according to the National Institute for Evaluation of Education. “In practice, it becomes a selection process that lets out all those who did not have the chance to access the best educational opportunities.”
“It should be highlighted that 8 out of 10 indigenous persons do not receive any basic education,” the UN human rights expert said. “Despite the fact that the country formally and constitutionally recognized indigenous rights, there are still limited resources to cover their necessities, an insufficient education model to rescue and promote indigenous cultures and languages, and a lack of teacher training to face this cultural diversity in the classroom.”
The bilingual intercultural education strategy, noted Mr. Muñoz Villalobos, has been focused on the indigenous population, even though it still looks forward to strengthen non-indigenous consciousness about it. “There is still the prevailing idea that intercultural matters are solely related to indigenous peoples and not a curriculum’s central component.”
The UN envoy also expressed his concern about the situation of agricultural laborers: “It has to be said that 70% of the children who abandon their studies come from such families.” In response to this harsh reality, he called for coordinated programs and more flexibility to promote these children’s retention into the school system.
Regarding the situation of disabled children, the Special Rapporteur urged the authorities “to develop the principles established in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into local norms, to incorporate disabled teachers within the regular education service and to develop reliable statistics about inclusion in education, which would allow developing more efficient public policies.”
Mr. Muñoz Villalobos stressed that “the quality of education has to be the essential component of the right to education. It is intrinsically linked to educational supply, access and investment. It has to be taken into account in the design of public policies and it is a responsibility of the Federal State and its entities.”
The UN independent expert noticed the Government’s constant concern for the quality of education and its positive initiatives to meet specific infrastructural problems. Nevertheless, in his view, the main problem is the fact that school supply does not attend social inequalities that are detrimental to marginalized groups. “It would seem that either the system still reproduces those inequalities or it is really slow on its elimination.”
The Special Rapporteur will present a complete report on his mission to Mexico to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in 2010.
Mr. Muñoz (Costa Rica), who was appointed Special Rapporteur in August 2004 by the UN Commission on Human Rights, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. The Commission first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to education in 1998. The mandate was renewed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 for an additional three-year period.
The Special Rapporteur is currently Professor of Human Rights at the Instituto de Estudios Latinoamericanos of the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. He has been Professor of Human Rights, Philosophy of Law and Civil Law in public and private universities in his country, as well as visiting professor at various universities in the world.