By MARK LORENZANA
The private sector in Mexico makes up for the government’s deficiencies in the field of education, particularly in the production of textbooks, according to specialists and official data.
According to official figures from Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), private schools serve almost 10 percent of the country’s basic education students, while at the university level, their coverage reaches up to 28.6 percent, and in postgraduate studies, 50 percent.
In addition, according to SEP specialists and officials, the National Commission for Free Textbooks (Conaliteg) commissions most of the production of educational textbooks.
In a report by Mexican daily newspaper Reforma on Saturday, March 4, Marx Arriaga, director of the Department of Educational Materials at the SEP, warned on Feb. 22 that businessmen “must take their hands off education in Mexico, so that the vision of the left prevails.” Arriaga added that textbooks that are not published by the state will be tagged as illegal.
Alma Maldonado, a researcher at the Center of Investigation and Advanced Studies’ (Cinvestav) Department of Educational Research, said in an interview with Reforma that the participation of the private sector in Mexico’s education — especially in educational materials, chief among them textbooks — is essential, considering the government’s lack of capacity to meet the country’s current educational demands.
Maldonado likewise warned about future problems if the SEP follows Arriga’s position, which she described as authoritarian.
“Private books, in the case of secondary education, have been fundamental because there are no public state books. It is worrying, and I see risks in supply going forward. If the private sector is being involved in the supply of textbooks, it is due to a lack of supply, which the government has not yet been able to address,” Maldonado said.
“And I do not know how the government is going to guarantee the supply of textbooks, without the involvement of the private sector, especially in high school. But it is very serious to declare a book illegal, especially because it is supplied by the private sector. We can discuss anything about the books: the materials, how they are made, what has been the role of the private sector in their production. But declaring them illegal is a serious matter because that would be censorship, because the most authoritarian governments are those that declare books illegal.”
For his part, Marco Fernández, an academic and researcher from nongovernmental organization México Evalúa, said that private education is recognized as a right by law.
“In a country of increasing polarization, there are those whose prejudice and resentment lead them to spread lies against the importance of collaboration between the government and the private sector, and education is no exception,” Fernández said. “Arriaga, in particular, should know that in the General Education Law of 2019, when it was approved by the current government, the right of individuals to participate in education was recognized.”
Fernández said that despite Arriaga’s problem with the private sector in education, there are many more who appreciate the importance of collaboration in favor of education.
“I wonder, do (Mexico City Governor) Claudia Sheinbaum, (Foreign Relations Secretary) Marcelo Ebrard and (National Regeneration Movement Senator) Ricardo Monreal have a shared vision of eliminating this cooperation between the public and the private sectors in education? It would be relevant for Arriaga, of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena), to listen to the vision of those three potential presidential candidates in this regard,” said Fernández.
He added that there are more than 4.3 million students in private institutions throughout the country at all levels.