By KELIN DILLON
On Wednesday, March 23, Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) announced that it would divert funds saved by the controversial cancellation of the country’s Full-Time Schools (ETC) program to affected children’s parents, though many education experts have raised concerns that this move will not positively affect the schooling of the nation’s children and could potentially be misused by families upon delivery.
While the ETC previously provided additional class hours, educational support and hot lunches to more than 3.6 million impoverished children around the country, the SEP will now instead deliver direct financial support to families rather than relying on middlemen. However, considering disturbing statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that show that school lunch is the first meal 65.8 percent of kids under the ETC eat, giving money directly to students’ parents does not guarantee that they will be fed well.
“Giving the money to families instead of schools does not solve the learning problem,” said Universidad Iberoamericana education expert Arcelia Martínez. “For this, programs focused on addressing lags and improving the quality of education are required. The pretext of this SEP move is to improve the infrastructure, but there are other urgent things that are being left behind. It is a decision of high political profitability that denotes a disregard for the evidence.”
Martínez went on to say, “The former ETC program managed to reduce the learning gaps between students from different socioeconomic strata, in addition to being a support for mothers, who had a safe space, the school, to leave their children and be able to work.”
Experts have further criticized the SEP for focusing on fostering the dependency and appreciation for rural populations on Mexico’s ruling party, the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena), which has previously come under fire for prioritizing political goodwill over effective public policy, as well as for ignoring the extensive evidence showing how beneficial the Full-Time Schools program has been to the education of Mexican children.
“What is being done is to change a public policy program of an educational institution, for a scholarship or a resource that will be delivered directly to parents, without there being any type of institutional structure that ensures that this money serves so that there is a better education for children and that there is no school dropout,” said Jacqueline Peschard, former president of the Federal Institute for Access to Public Information.
On the other side of the same coin, many educational pundits have pointed out that the elimination of the Full-Time Schools program in exchange for this direct fund delivery will disproportionately hurt Mexico’s population of working mothers, as the program’s extended hours provided extra childcare opportunities to this segment of the population.
“SEP Head Delfina Gómez Álvarez is not being empathic with the thousands of women who go to work every day and leave their children in these schools, because they are safe places,” said María Marván Laborde, former Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection (IFAI) commissioner. “It is very likely that now many of these women will have to reduce their work hours or find another that involves them not working eight hours to have time to pick up their children.”
“I am sure that for this there will be no subsidy, so many families will see their income reduced. This is also a gender issue and I find it impressive that the secretary of education does not understand this,” concluded Marván Laborde.