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Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education concludes his visit in Mexico

18 February 2010 Mexico D. F.

Mr. Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the right to education, carried out an official visit to Mexico from the 8 to 18 February 2010. He visited México D. F., Tapachula, Oxchuc and San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas State, Monterrey, Nuevo León, and Tijuana, Baja California. The Special Rapporteur met the Federal Education Secretary, the Governor of Nuevo León, the President of the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), the National Institute for Evaluation of Education (Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Education, INEE), the National Institute for Education of Adults (Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos, INEA), the Integral Development System for the Family (Sistema de Desarrollo Integral para la familia, DIF), the National Council for Education Promotion (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo, CONAFE) and other national authorities, state and local.

The Special Rapporteur took part in more than 75 meetings which were attended by more than 1000 persons representing different sectors of civil society (indigenous leaders, school teachers, students, parents, professional education organizations and representatives of United Nations agencies). During his stay, the Special Rapporteur also had the opportunity to visit primary and mid-superior schools, as well as several universities – UNAM, IPN, FLASCO, the Colegio de México, UANL, COLEF and the Universidad Intercultural de San Cristóbal de la Casas. Mr. Vernor Muñoz wishes to express his gratitude to the Mexican government for the opportunity to meet with all the relevant authorities on the field.

In the last fifty years, Mexico has multiplied its population four times, which posed a challenge on education demands for the Federal government and the entities. Facing this situation, the country did not only respond but also accomplished significant achievements in every education area and discipline. The Special Rapporteur particularly stresses the important efforts made to articulate primary education and to expand secondary education, reaching to cover 98% of the target in primary level, and 92% in secondary education. It also highlights the compromise that has been constitutionally assumed in order to guarantee the principles of compulsory and free education in the pre-school level. Additionally, Mexico presents a large supply on superior university and technological education.

Despite this, Mexico faces two big challenges in the educational field: the challenge to end the exclusion that its educational system generates and to raise the education quality to all levels and population groups.

According to the Special Rapporteur, 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.

There are 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 invaluable number of functional illiteracy, which has led the government to make an effort on this issue, although still insufficient. It is also necessary to stress that, despite the efforts made to achieve a universal access to education; an estimated 1.4 million children have not formally been schooled yet.

Regarding adult education, the Special Rapporteur found the situation worrying because, according to official statistics, at least 34 million people aged over 15 are lagging behind in their education, and only 2.4 million of them are attended by INEA. Whereas 1.5 million indigenous people are encountering illiteracy and find themselves left behind when INEA only attends 66 000 of them. 

The Special Rapporteur considers the strengthening of the institution in charge of adult’s education of vital importance since nonetheless the number of people it has to attend, it only receives an 0.86% of the SEP budget, and its work is mostly done by “solidary assessors” (100 000 people) who work part-time with enthusiasm without counting on any university pedagogical training.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the number of children left out from the school system. According to INEE, only 66 out of 100 children entering into primary school are estimated to graduate in the prescribed time. School desertion in mid-superior education approximates 35%, which is worsened by the established common exam to students finishing secondary school. In practice, it becomes a selection process that lets out all those who did not have the chance to access the best educational opportunities. Apart from the achievements on primary schools’ enrolments, the State should also pay attention to successful achievements throughout the whole education process of students (per each 100 people who start primary school, only 17 enter university, and only 2 or 3 study in a postgraduate degree).

As a preliminary conclusion after this mission, the Special Rapporteur considers that exclusion of education opportunities needs be addressed towards the marginalized groups, something that could be resumed in a sentence: poor people receive a poor education.

It should be highlighted that 8 out of 10 indigenous persons do not receive any basic education. Despite the fact that the country formally and constitutionally recognized indigenous rights, there is still a 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 (in most occasions, teachers do not know the indigenous languages the students speak). In the case of the indigenous population, not even 1% of those who enter primary school achieve entrance into university (in contrast with 17% of the national population).

The bilingual intercultural education strategy has been focused on the indigenous population, even though it still looks forward to strengthen non-indigenous consciousness about it. The intercultural education programs’ budget has been dramatically reduced and there is still the prevailing idea that intercultural matters are solely related to indigenous peoples and not a curriculum’s central component.

The Special Rapporteur applauds the creation of 9 intercultural universities directed to the education of indigenous youth, under an education strategy according to the reality of their community. He applauds that this intercultural education is offered for free and without taking into account family origin, which reflects the growing commitment of institutions and federal government on this issue.

It is estimated that there are 3.1 million agricultural laborers in the country and, at least a million children that, due to their parents’ working situation, find it difficult to continue school attendance. To get a scope on this problem’s dimension, it has to be said that 70% of the children who abandon their studies come from such families. In response to this harsh reality, the Special Rapporteur calls authorities to enforce coordinated programs to make the school system more flexible in order to promote these children’s retention into. In this sense, he calls upon strengthening of programs like PRONIM and “la boleta única”. 

Concerning the situation of disabled children within the education system, the Special Rapporteur noted the existence of two strategies that do not really harmonize with each other: one is inclusive; while the other is focused on providing special education. There are also differences within federal entities. It is necessary 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.

Social asymmetries cannot be incidentally solved; neither can it be expected that compensation programs and subsidies would resolve structural problems. This has to do with a lack of properly articulated, systematic public policies that would not be modified every six years and would really attend problems of discrimination and social exclusion of indigenous peoples, rural populations, laborers and their families and disabled peoples who have been traditionally excluded.

The Special Rapporteur considers fundamental that the mechanisms to ensure the justiciability and exigibility of the right to education are strengthened. He calls on the CNDH in particular, to develop urgent programs that are consistent and systematic in their defense on the right to education.

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 Special Rapporteur noticed that the Government has maintained constant concern for the quality of education and developed positive initiatives to meet infrastructural punctual problems, such as the program “Quality Schools” (“Escuelas de calidad”). Moreover, it has set out programs like “Full-time Schools” and “Schools always open”, which have allowed to maximize the learning time in many communities. Additionally, the government has offered wage bonuses to educational staff and has rewarded their efforts in several ways.

Nevertheless, the fact that school supply does not attend social inequalities that are detrimental to those marginalized peoples is the main problem the education authorities have to face, according to the Special Rapporteur. Also, it does not include structural actions that efficiently pay attention to their needs, nor does it invests enough resources for its attention. Despite the existence of important initiatives, like the “Learning Communities” (“Comunidades de Aprendizaje”) program, it would seem that either the system still reproduces those inequalities or it is really slow on its elimination.

The “Alliance for the quality of education” which was recently promoted, contains key elements for public education and crucial commitments for the State, which are also present in the Constitution and international norms. This Alliance has been criticized by many, the objections being that the Alliance was designed without an open discussion and a wide participatory process. It was also criticized that it does not respond to diversity issues, and does not ensure the requirement that education opportunities are addressed according to the established norms of international human law.

As part of the concerns of the State to address the educational quality, Mexico is currently taking part in many standardized tests (PISA, ENLACE, EXCALE). Furthermore, the Federal and State governments have made progress in the establishment of indicator systems.  Although these tests could be useful, these are standardized tests, which do not address diversity, social and cultural variety and community factors. These tests have been problematic, since they have inappropriately projected bad teachers’ profiles, pinpointing them as the main factors for school inefficiency (and not taking into account the educational system as the real factor due to improper execution of public policies).

Finally, the Special Rapporteur notes the deep complexity of the educational system in many areas, due to the combination of Federal and State obligations, the decentralization process, and especially the atypical symbiosis between the National Education Workers’ Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) and the Education Ministry. Despite being explained by historical reasons, this association could be problematic when observed from the point of view of the obligations of the effective enjoyment of the right to education, as it reveals reciprocal subordination of functions between each counterpart, this only adding more complexity to the educational outlook.

Based on the information collected during the visit, the Special Rapporteur will present a report to the Human Rights Council 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.

Mr. Muñoz 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.

For further information on the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: