Other Types of Education in Mexico

Special Education
Educación Especial

While special education has existed in Mexico for many years, the General Education Law (Ley General de Educación) of 1993 was the first federal mandate obligating the state to address the needs of special education students. Since 1995, Mexican educational, health, and social welfare agencies have implemented significant changes in the services provided to children with learning disabilities or physical handicaps.

These efforts include initiatives based on the National Program for the Welfare and Incorporation into the Development of Handicapped Persons (Programa Nacional para el Bienestar y la Incorporación al Desarrollo de las Personas con Discapacidad), the First National Registry of Minors with some Indication of Handicap (Primer Registro Nacional de Menores con Algún Signo de Descapacidad), and the Program of Educational Development 1995-2000 (El Programa de Desarrollo Educativo 1995-2000) (Perfil de la Educación en México 52).

Current Mexican educational policy is based on the premise that special education students have difficulty learning the content included in the national plans and programs of studies and need additional resources. Mexican educators no longer focus exclusively on the particular problems exhibited by individual students. The clinical-rehabilitation model has been replaced by a holistic approach which considers factors such as the school, home, and community environment as well as methodological issues that may impact a child´s progress or exacerbate a problem.

Students with learning disabilities either remain in regular schools and receive assistance or are placed in a special institution if their needs are significantly demanding. The process of identifying needs and providing services is coordinated by teams of professionals called Regular Education Support Services Units, Unidades de Servicios de Apoyo a la Educación Regular (USAER). The Regular Education Support Services Units usually consists of a team that includes a social worker, psychologist, speech and language therapist, and a special education teacher. They serve four or five schools, spending one day per week in each.

The USAER members conduct studies of the school operations and environment, and of the community the school serves. They work with the School Technical Consultative Council (Consejo Técnico Consultivo Escolar), school staff, and parents to explain the special education program. Although teachers most frequently refer students, the members of the USAER visit classrooms and may initiate the referral process based on their observations.

The first step is to determine if the problem is the methodology used by the teacher or some other factor created by the classroom or school environment. If the USAER members decide to continue the process, the team’s social worker will visit the home to do a case study, If the problem is found to be caused by the school, home, or community, the team will work to find a solution. According to Mtra. Catalina Barrios Navarro, special education technical consultant in Guadalajara, Jalisco, most academic and behavioral problems are caused by factors other than a learning disability.

If the referral process continues, the school psychologist will administer a test to define the learning disability. At any time during the process, the USAER also may order a medical examination for the student. Students identified as learning disabled are given assistance by a special education teacher in the regular classroom or in small groups pulled out of the room.

USAER also provides technical assistance and support to the classroom teacher. Students with severe disabilities or physical handicaps attend Multiple Attention Centers Centros de Atención Múltiple (CAM). They receive instruction at the pre-school, elementary and middle school levels, as well as job training.

According to the SEP, during school year 1997-1998 there were 1,523 Regular Education Support Services Units (USAER) and 980 Multiple Services Centers (CAM) serving more than 111,700 students. Other initiatives include the following: extending all of the special education support services to regular middle school level schools beginning school year 2000-2001; upgrading existing facilities and constructing new schools to accommodate students with physical handicaps; distributing packets of materials to classroom teachers that include suggestions for modifying the curriculum; and requiring a class in special education at the teachers´ colleges (Perfil de la Educación in México 54).

Escuelas Unitarias

The National Council for the Promotion of Education (Consejo Nacional de Fomento de la Educación), commonly known by its acronym CONAFE, is a federal educational program intended to serve children and families who live in small, isolated, localities, in labor camps, and urban settlements.

Throughout Mexico, there are thousands of one-room schoolhouses, called escuelas unitarias, reflecting the significant effort in recent years by the Mexican government to provide its citizens in the most remote areas with educational opportunities that probably did not exist when their parents were children. Some schools do not offer all six grade levels. In other cases, one rural community may offer some grades, and a neighboring village, the others. By contrast, larger, urban schools may offer several sections of all six grade levels and have 20 or more classrooms.

The number of personnel varies according to the school enrollment and facilities. One teacher may teach all six grade levels or there may be two, three, four, or more than 20 teachers. The school administration usually consists of no more than a principal, who is responsible for the organization, operation, and administration of the school. In schools with a minimum of five teachers, a School Technical Consultative Council, presided over by the principal, serves as a consultative body. One school counselor may server several schools. A team consisting of a social worker, psychologist, speech and hearing specialist, and special education teacher, may also serve four to five schools, providing support services for special education students.

In rural areas, relationships between teachers and the community are often close. Teachers usually live in the community where the school is located, and many become personally involved with the students' families. There are no libraries unless the parents decide to fund one. Parents of different sessions in the same facility will have to fund a library for their group. In recent years, the federal government has made available to all schools "Reading Corners" (Rincones de Lectura), a collection of supplementary books grouped by grade level. This program has been significantly expanded to include annual contributions of new titles.

Services are delivered through a decentralized system that depends upon state level administrations called “delegations.” In addition to providing direct instruction--including indigenous and adult education--CONAFE offers a number of support services to children and families. Community instructors, who usually are graduates of middle school (Secundaria), use the national textbooks to teach pre-school and elementary level students.

After one or two years of service, these instructors become eligible for scholarships to continue their own educations at a high school level or beyond. CONAFE pre-school serves children who are from three to five years 11 months old. Children who are from six to 14 years 11 months old by September first may enroll in Level I of elementary. CONAFE recently expanded to offer “initial” education to infants and “post elementary” instructional and support services. In addition to the national textbooks, students receive school materials. The instructor receives a packet of books.

CONAFE has supported an effort to establish community libraries that contain materials designed to maintain the traditions and customs of different regions. Community Education Promotion Associations (Asociaciones Promotoras de Educación Comunitaria) are responsible for housing and feeding the community instructors and overseeing the program. One of the distinguishing characteristics of CONAFE is the close relationship between members of the community and CONAFE personnel.

Instructors carry out educational activities related to health, nutrition, and work that contribute to a higher standard of life. Latest statistics report the total number of students served by CONAFE as more than four million. The educational services provided to indigenous children, as well compensatory support programs are in the process of being consolidated under the auspices of CONAFE. For more information about CONAFE, consult their excellent web site at http://www.conafe.edu.mx .

Indigenous Education
Educación Indigena

One of the most noteworthy characteristics of Mexico is its cultural diversity. According to the 2000 census there are more than seven million indigenous people speaking more than 80 languages and various dialects. While the majority live in geographically isolated areas, about 40 percent live in urban settlements (Programa Nacional de Educación 2001-2006 p. 109).

Indigenous children manifest disproportionately low rates of enrollment and significantly higher rates of retention and drop out. For instance, during the 1999-2000 school term, the completion rate for elementary school students was calculated at 90 percent, except among indigenous children, who averaged only 81 percent (Dirección Nacional de Educación Intercultural Bilingue, http://www.sep.gob.mx/work/resources/LocalContent/ 43713/1/ESTADISTICA2003-2004.pdf)

From 1995 to the present, the SEP has made a great effort to provide educational services to these children. The National Education Program 2001-2006 established “equity and quality,” especially as it relates to indigenous groups, as its elementary focus. The instructional system is bilingual and intercultural. Students learn to read and write in their native language, which maintains cultural identity. In 1999-2000 school year the federal government distributed 118 million books in 33 indigenous languages and 55 dialectic variations (Prawda and Flores, 2001). Indigenous children also receive instruction in reading and writing Spanish (Perfil de la Educación en México p. 41).

In addition to government materials, bilingual indigenous schools also supply books and cassettes containing stories, legends, and songs written in the indigenous language and Spanish, created by children, teachers, and members of the local community. Distance programs provide satellite dishes, television sets, and video recorders, allowing access to the national instructional satellite system, EDUSAT.

Compensatory Programs
Programas Compensatorios

Providing compensatory programs to underprivileged students has been a priority of Mexican education since 1992. In 1998 compensatory program services were extended to include all levels of Basic Education, from elementary to middle. The biggest compensatory program in Mexico is Oportunidades. It covers 25 million people, and 5 million families. It was launched by the Ministry of Social Development. Three different compensatory programs help the neediest schools in rural and indigenous areas by providing the following resources and services:

Since 1961, the federal government, under the auspices of the National System for Integral Family Development (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia-DIF), has made school breakfasts available. The program currently serves more than four million students in public urban and rural schools.

The Education, Health, and Nutrition Program (Programa de Educación, Salud y Alimentación-PROGRESA) provides support to families living in the rural areas of more than 20 states. In addition to nutrition and health support, the program provides financial aid and school supplies to targeted families who have children under the age of 18 studying between the third grade of elementary and the third grade of middle school. To be eligible, the children must attend school regularly. The government plans to establish a system of scholarships for students served by PROGRESA and who want to continue studying beyond the middle school level (Programa Nacional de Educación 2001-2006 p. 173).