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Teacher service reform in Mexico – uneasy compromise?

Massive police presence surrounding the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate in the capital of Mexico was necessary when a law concerning the educational reform of the country was passed at the beginning of September. Huge protests were organised by the National Education Workers’ Co-ordinator (CNTE) – one of Mexico’s two big trade unions representing teachers’ interests – which paralysed parts of the city for days.

What was the initial point of departure? Enrique Peña Nieto, President of the United Mexican States declared a reform of the country’s desolate educational system one of its priorities. The educational reform consists of a package of three laws of which the law on teacher service drew particular criticism. Adopted at the beginning of September, the law aims at putting an end to corruption and the lack of competency among Mexican teaching staff. It stipulates that teaching staff, school directors and other educational personnel in the primary and secondary education sector must undergo an evaluation every four years. A failure in this evaluation would result in the loss of the teaching license or the job position. Moreover, the law puts forward an open competition among university graduates as a prerequisite for becoming a teacher.

What were the reasons for the protests? Teachers’ trade unions appoint teachers for their organisation, however, in many cases these ‘teachers’ continue to be paid by the federal government. Consequently, the law bans the continuous receipt of salary by the federal government with employment in one of the trade unions. This step has been made necessary because teachers’ employment by one of the trade unions was not properly registered. Consequently, huge discrepancies between the number of educational staff receiving salaries paid by the federal government and the actual number of working teachers became public. Moreover, teachers feared that they might lose their job in case of failure at the evaluation.

What was the final outcome? Indeed, the protests showed effect and slightly watered down the law proposal. This means, teaching staff will have a right to retake evaluations up to three times within a timeframe of two years. The results are now explicitly confidential and will only be published according to school or regional rankings. Furthermore, teachers can appeal their cases at court and – one of the most important points for the protesting trade unions – already hired teaching staff will only lose its teaching license but will remain employed by being transferred to an administrative position. Nevertheless, future teaching staff recruited through the new qualifying examination risk losing their position if they fail the evaluations.

The success of the educational reform will largely depend on its implementation. But even before proper implementation can take place other obstacles need to be surmounted. Senator Manuel Bartlett Díaz announced a formal complaint with regard to the recently passed law on teacher service. According to Bartlett Díaz the approbation of the law did not respect the correct legislative procedure, making the law null and void. Whether the objection will be sustained or not still remains to be seen. 

Law on teacher service (in Spanish)

Mexican Senate (in Spanish)