By KELIN DILLON
Just days after Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) announced the end of the federal government’s Full-Time School program – which provided educational support, additional class hours, and hot food to 3.6 million of the nation’s most impoverished children throughout some 27,000 schools around the nation – in favor of funding infrastructure projects, the controversial move has attracted criticism from educational experts across the country.
When in affect, the program helped put in place extra hours of supplementary classes for children aged between five and 14, including within the arts, athletics and languages, with an emphasis on English, the Full-Time School program likewise provided children with a hot lunch – something the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) claims was the only meal of the day for 11 percent of the program’s participants. The program has also had a strong focus on Mexico’s rural and indigenous population, with 70 percent of participating schools classified as indigenous and rural, while 55 percent of the minors taking part in the program were below the poverty line.
“The Full-Time Schools program was a social equalizer, a sample of good public policy for equity, security and development,” said higher education researcher at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, Ana Razo. “Removing this program means attacking the conditions of the most vulnerable population, against children who do not have another opportunity beyond the one that the state offers them.”
Critics similarly pointed out how reduced schooling hours could adversely affect working mothers who rely on the child-keeping aspect of education, how impoverished children have already had their education negatively affected by the pandemic and require extra schooling attention now, and how the Full-Time School Program has helped boost impoverished kids at reading levels behind their higher-income peers back to normal levels.
“One would say ‘well, let them have breakfast at home,’ but it is not the reality of the low-income family, where having this support does make a difference,” added México Evalúa Researcher and Coordinator of Education and Anti-Corruption Marco Fernández, also pointing out the impact of food scarcity on children’s development. “And there are studies that show how the element of nutrition is the first thing you need to have for good learning.”
Fernández went on to point out how Secretary of Public Education Delfina Gomez has failed to visit any school under the Full-Time School Program, and how, when reviewed by the Superior Audit of the Federation (ASF), more than 50 percent of public schools had multiple irregularities, including not reporting expenses and failing to deliver and activate Banco Azteca cards, despite more than 7 billion pesos in budget allocated to the SEP.
“The SEP has not given an account of where the resources of the schools went and (some of) the cards were not activated,” said Fernández. “I do not know if Delfina Gómez and the Undersecretary of Basic Education conveniently ignore what the ASF points out in that audit or if, frankly, there is cynicism to minimize the negative effects of the Full-Time Schools program.”
Despite the federal government’s contentious choice to close the program, a number of local governments have decided to continue funding the Full-Time Schools program out of their own budgets. As of Monday, March 7, the governments of San Luis Potosi, Mexico City, Guerrero, Puebla, Baja California and Baja California Sur had announced their intentions to pay for their respective regions’ Full-Time Schools programs.