Category Archives: Education

Schooling in Mexico

The educational system in Mexico has changed drastically in the 11 years I have lived in Mexico. Our son attended kinder (kindergarten), primaria (elementary) and secundaria (middle school). I have taught at the kinder (kindergarten) and primaria (elementary) levels here in Mexico. So I’ve been able to experience the system both as a parent and as a teacher.

A guardería is a daycare provider.

First, let’s talk about the guardería. This is NOT a school but rather a daycare. Children are eligible to attend starting at 45 days old and ending at 4 years of age. Literally, the day after a child is 4, he or she will no longer be permitted to attend. This has caught some parents unaware and lead to mad scrambling to find a kinder (preschool) that has space for their 4-year-old son or daughter. Although children can enter kinder at age 2, many parents prefer the guardería because of the extended hours.

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An estancia infantil is a government-sponsored daycare facility.

There are also estancias infantiles, which are government supported guarderías designed to provide childcare for single mothers who are working or studying. Children can attend once they are one year old until one day prior to their 4th birthday. If the child has special needs or is disabled, he or she can continue to attend until one day prior to his or her 6th birthday.

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A jardín de niños is for preschool and kindergarten aged students. 

Moving on to preschool. What is known as el jardín de niños (Garden of children) in Mexico is both pre-school and kindergarten. Some schools even offer guardería levels. Children between 45 days old and 2 years are considered lactantes (milk drinkers). Those between two and three years old are categorized as maternales (mothering). And beginning from age 3 years to 6 years the children are divided into three groups: primero (first grade), followed by segundo (second grade) and tercero (third grade).

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A private school offers both kindergarten and elementary levels.

The age placement has been a little troublesome to me because all children born in the year, whether on January 1 or December 31 were grouped together. This means that some children were a full year younger than their classmates. This age lumping continues through elementary, which seriously impacts the overall success rate of children born later in the year. Recently, some efforts have been made to close that developmental gap. Beginning in 2018, children entering primero must be 4 years old prior to August 1.

Third graders, mostly 5-6 years old, are taught to read and write. This may seem a little young for English speakers who typically learn to read at about age 7, however, Spanish is more of a syllabic language rather than whole word language and therefore easier to learn phonetically.

Although 3 years of kinder attendance is mandatory it seems only attending tercero (third grade) is strictly enforced in Mexico. From what I’ve seen, a child’s kinder attendance eases the transition to primaria (elementary school). After all, a kinder trained child already knows to line up, sit in a chair, work on classwork, listen to the teacher, ask to use the bathroom, do homework and so on. Most parents in our area try to send their children to a private kinder rather than one run by the government, mostly because of classroom size. Although by law, there can only be a maximum of 20 students per classroom, if there is a teacher’s aide, that number can be increased by 10. In reality, this number is often even larger.

Kinders tend to have more parent involvement than the other levels. There are usually parent/child events scheduled each month centered around the holidays. The school year runs parallel to the primaria school year which is currently 200 days.  Most kinders have a school day that runs from 9 am to 1:30 pm.

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Primaria is elementary.

Entering primero (first grade) at the primaria (elementary) level most students know how the basics of reading and writing in Spanish. Again, there is the issue of younger students who are just not at the same level as older classmates and fall behind although as of 2018, students entering first grade must have already turned 6 before August 15

Both public and private schools follow a SEP mandated curriculum. Private schools are considered better because of the smaller classroom size. However, having taught at a private school, I can tell you there is a trade-off. Although most of my classes had less than 20 students, about 3/4 of them had some sort of behavior or learning issue. Whereas my son’s classes at the public elementary school had anywhere between 30-40 students with 3 or 4 students having behavioral or learning issues.

Grades at all levels, with the exception of kinder which uses satisfactory/unsatisfactory,  follow the same protocol: 80% attendance is mandatory for grade completion. Students are evaluated on a scale of 10 with 6 being the lowest passing grade. At the primaria level, students can not be held back unless both teacher and parent get a waiver approved from SEP (board of education) so the lowest possible grade for an elementary student is 6.0 regardless of actual understanding of a subject.

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Notice the two names, one above the door and one in front of the door. Two schools share this building.

Attending primaria is mandatory until age 14. School times vary. In many areas, there are matutino (morning) and vespertino (afternoon/evening) schools using the same building. The hours for the matutino run from 8 am to 12:30 and for the vespertina 2 pm to 6:30 pm. Everyone wants the morning classes it seems, although there is no reason to think students learn any better in the morning. Besides, the teachers are usually also working two shifts at different schools, so even the teachers are the same.

There is also what is known as Primaria de Tiempo Completo (full-time elementary). The school day begins at 8 am and may either finish at 2:30 or 4 pm. The extended hours are meant to provide other extra classes that the regular school day does not leave time for, like English or computer classes.

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Secundaria is middle school.

The next level is secundaria (middle school) which is 3 years. Students may be as young as 11 when they begin but the typical age grouping is as follows: Primer año de secundaria: 12 años, Segundo año de secundaria: 13 años, Tercer año de secundaria: 14 años. Remember, schooling is only mandatory up until 14 years of age in Mexico, so there is a large drop-out rate at this level. There are also matutino (7:00 am to 1:40) and vespertino (2:00 to 8:10 pm) sessions at this level since many schools share the buildings.

Classes include algebra, Spanish, English, history, and Formación Cívica y Ética (Mexican moral values) just like in elementary school. There are art, music and P.E. classes as well. The best addition to the curriculum was the elective carpentry class my son took. The students in his school were given the options of electricity, carpentry, auto mechanics, bookkeeping or clothing design for their elective and had a taller (workshop class) twice a week for the 3 years they were enrolled at the secundaria (middle school) level. The idea was to provide marketable skills for the students should they not continue their education past this level.

Some rural areas do not have middle schools but do have telesecundarias where students are in a classroom and the teacher teaches from another location and class is broadcasted to the students. Believe it or not, students who attend telesecundaries have some of the best educational outcomes. Perhaps the fortitude it takes to learn this way is a good predictor of ultimate success?

Mexico has a fairly good setup to provide opportunities for adults over the age of 15 to complete their secondary education through the Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos (INEA). Considering that 63% of 25 to 64-year-olds in Mexico haven’t obtained their diploma from the secundaria, there is a huge need in this sector. Materials and classroom instruction are provided free of charge and teachers volunteer their time in both urban areas and remote communities.

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A prepa abierto offering early morning class or all day Saturday classes.

Preparatoria (high school) is the following educational rung to climb and is not mandatory. Students are usually between 15 and 18 years old and this segment is also 3 years in duration divided into 6 semesters. You may also hear the term bachillerato general used to refer to these years of study.

Considering most rural areas lack secundarias, even fewer have preparatorias. In some areas, students who are serious about their education take the bus every morning, sometimes for more than an hour, to attend prepa. Although most students still follow the traditional route, there is a relatively new online version available through SEP and other higher learning institutes. My son is enrolled in the preparatoria en línea through UVEG. He has one course per month to complete and will finish 6 months before his friends who are attending a regular prepa and with the same diploma. There are also Preparatorias Abiertas, which offer classes early mornings during the week or alternatively only on Saturdays all day to accommodate students who need to work.

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The local office of UVEG which offers online prepa and university degrees.

Similar to the U.S., a high school diploma doesn’t prepare you much for life in the real world. So students are encouraged to continue on to the university level. Although there are ample excellent universities available to choose from in Mexico, enrollment in higher education institutes is one of the lowest percentages in the world with  53% of 15-19-year-olds currently attending school past the required levels despite having the one of the largest population of young adults between these ages. This might be ok if these potential students were working, but about 20% of 15-19-year-olds are neither employed nor enrolled in school. Additionally, higher education does not equate more job opportunities in Mexico. In fact, Mexico and Korea are the only countries where more people with advanced degrees are unemployed than those who have completed only basic education.

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A satellite campus for the Universidad de Leon

Be that as it may, a 4-year bachelor’s degree at the undergraduate level is called Licenciatura, which is followed by a 2-year Master’s degree known as Maestría, and a 3-year Doctorado, followed by the higher doctorate of Doctor en Ciencias. Currently, about 23% of Mexicans aged 23–35 have a college degree.

Once you have completed a program at the university level and received your Licenciatura in the field of study you completed you can add Licenciado in front of your name. For example, I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Education from a U.S. university. Therefore, I am Licenciada (Lic.) Flores. People put great store by titles here, so if you are entitled to it, use one. Instead of Licenciado, engineers use the title Ingeniero (Ing.) and architects use the title Arquitecto (Arq.) but they amount to the same thing.

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This private school offers preschool, elementary, middle school and high school levels.

I hope this brief overview of the Mexican education system helps you navigate its murky seas a little better!

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Online Prepa

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Remember how part of my transition year included the fact that my son would no longer be attending school in town?  Well, he’s been enrolled 5 months now and here’s how that is going.

At the end of July, we headed down to the UVEG office in Moroleon in order to enroll my son in the online Preparatoria program.  He needed to actually take the entrance exam there in the office, I suppose to reduce the chance of cheating.  Well, as I didn’t need to be there, I dropped him off and went shopping.  I went back later to pick him up and the supervisor said that he had left some time earlier because he wasn’t able to take the examination.  Why wasn’t he able to take the exam?  Well, I set it up so that notifications from UVEG get sent to my Gmail account, not his and he didn’t know my password to get the link for the exam.  Well, alrighty then.

So we tried again the next day.  I waited this time.  I brought my Kindle and twirled around in a computer chair for about 2 hours while he completed the exam.  He tested out of the Introduction to Spanish course, but didn’t do so well in the other sections, well, he passed, but not enough to opt out of those sections of the course entirely.

So his first course online was Introduction to Computer Science.  Seems like a good one to start with.  Only he found it tediously boring.  When it came time to take the exam, he missed an entire section (because it was boring) and failed.  He had the option to do an extra credit activity (for a fee of course) and passed with a 77.  

The second online course was Online Classroom Study Techniques.  Again, this seemed like a good course, even helpful perhaps?  But just like the first course, he found it BORING!  He procrastinated and then the last day to turn in the exam he had made plans with friends, so rushed through it and guess what?  Failed again.  He did the extra credit activity and passed with a 70.

You can probably guess that I wasn’t a happy camper at this point.  As an incentive, I drew up a potential income chart.  If he scored above a 90, he would earn 500 pesos.  An 80 would earn him 200 pesos.  No earnings for grades in the 70s.  Anything below that, woe betide him.  He must reimburse me for the retake fees.  AND he would not be allowed to say at the little house in Sunflower Valley overnight until he brought his grades up.

The third online course was Mathematical Reasoning and he bellyached about that, but the first week he completed 70 percent of the course. He was doing well.  He had 80-100% correct answers on his activities.  Then he let it slide.  He logged on to complete the final section, worth 25% of his grade to find out that the course had closed the previous day, 3 days early, due to technical problems with the site.  So he failed AGAIN!

For some reason we couldn’t register for the recuperation activity, site problems I guess. So he would have to take the course over again.  

The next class was Text Analysis, not his favorite by a long shot. Upon registration,  I really emphasized that he needed to complete the course sooner rather than later.  The whole point of doing this online course bit is for him to learn how to manage his time effectively.  So far he hasn’t mastered that particular skill. If he learns something from the actual course he is taking, well that’s a bonus.  Call me crazy but time management would be something to excel at before taking more extensive(and expensive) courses.  I also threatened to send him to the downtown computer lab to do his school work daily.  If there are too many distractions (Minecraft, Facebook, Whats App) for him at the little house, well then, time to move to a distraction-free monitored zone.

This time, he really applied himself even though I know this was his least favorite course so far.  The report card came and he passed with a 71 the first time around. No extra activities needed, no redoing the entire course.  Yipee!  As a reward, the prohibition to staying at the little house in Sunflower was lifted. He now could choose one night to stay overnight per week.  IF he passed the next course, he’d be allowed to stay 2 nights.

December brought a redo of Mathematical Reasoning.  Since he had done well with the material the first time around, he rushed to completion a full week ahead of schedule.  He double and triple checked that 100% of the course activities had been submitted and we waited for the grade. 79.  Much better!

So, over the holidays, there aren’t any classes scheduled.  Wanting to get a jump on the new year, we went to register for his next class, English (he’d better pass this one) and much to my delight, beginning in 2018, all online preparatorio classes are free in the state of Guanajuato.  Oh, happy day!  I feel less guilty about quitting the book reviewer job now.  Of course, if my son fails and needs to do extra credit activities, there’s a fee involved but he must reimburse me according to the rules above.  He’s currently 14% through his total studies.  Considering that his classmates who continued their education at the local prepas will only be 25% through their studies next July, I think he’s making good progress.

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Increasing Happiness–Scientifically

A few weeks ago, I finished an online course about global poverty.  While I enjoyed the experience, I thought I’d try something more upbeat this time around.  So I registered for The Science of Happiness sponsored by edX and the University of California–Berkeley and was not disappointed.  

Everyone wants to be happy.  Not only do you feel better emotionally, but it provides all sorts of benefits for your physical self as well. Happy people have more friends, live longer, have fewer health problems and generally enjoy life more.  But did you know that 50% of your happiness level is genetic and there’s not much you can do about that.  However, 10% is determined by life circumstances and there are some things you can do about that.  Whereas the remaining 40% is based on your actions, how you choose to live your life.  (See Happiness: it’s not just your genes, stupid!) Basically, you are in control of somewhere between 40 and 50% of your overall happiness.  Sounds good to me!

So how happy are you now?  Well, there are ways to find out!  Start with the Authentic Happiness Inventory sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania to measure your overall happiness. You have to register but it’s free.  While you are there go ahead and take the General Happiness Scale which assesses enduring happiness and the Fordyce Emotions Questionnaire which measures current happiness.  Now you have a baseline to work with.

Instead of going through why you should be happy, as the course did, I’ll just assume that you want to be happy and concentrate on that 40-50% that you have some control over. The course had a number of Happiness Practices that have been scientifically proven to increase your happiness.  Of course, the amount of happiness that you experience after applying these practices in your life varies from person to person as is to be expected. But it can’t hurt to give them a try!  Interspersed among the happiness practices are the movies that were included as part of the course syllabus.  You don’t want to miss those! I especially recommend Hector and the Search for Happiness.

Happiness practice #1: Three good things

Spend 10 minutes every night remembering three good things that happened during the day. For each thing, write a title, details about the event (including how you felt then and now), and what caused it. This activity teaches us to seek out and savor positive things, and it’s been shown to increase happiness up to six months later.  I already make a practice of doing this on a regular basis.  I think it really does make a difference.

Happiness Practice #2: Active listening

Take 15-30 minutes a week to have a conversation with someone you’re close to, and ask them to share what’s on their mind. As they’re talking, show attentive body language and don’t get distracted or interrupt them. Make sure you understand by paraphrasing what they’re saying and asking questions. Try to be empathetic and avoid pronouncing judgments. What’s your compassionate level?  Find out by taking the Compassionate Love Scale that measures your tendency to support, help, and understand other people.

Happiness Practice #3: Random Acts of Kindness

This was my favorite activity. Do five kind things – that you wouldn’t normally do – in a single day. To maximize the effects, make them all different and take time later to write down what you did and how you felt. The five kindnesses don’t have to be for the same person, and the person doesn’t even have to know about it.  If you need some inspiration try 101 Easy Ideas For Random Acts Of Kindness.

Happiness practice #4: Forgiving

Begin by making a list of people who hurt you who are worth forgiving. Then, start with the least painful offense and take some time to think about how you suffered and how that makes you feel. When you’ve decided to forgive, you can start to think about the circumstances that led to the offense, including the offender’s childhood, past hurts, and other pressures they were under. Pay attention to whether you feel kinder toward the offender and consider giving them a small gift. In the end, you can reframe the experience and try to find meaning and purpose in what happened. Not sure you need to forgive anyone? Take the Transgression Motivations Questionnaire to measures your forgiveness level.

Happiness practice #5: Mindfulness

This practice has three options.  Choose the one that works best for you.  The more you do each practice, the more happiness benefits you will reap.

Option #1 Mindful Breathing

Focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally, you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Practice mindful breathing 15 minutes daily. 

Option #2 Body Scan Meditation

Focus your attention on different parts of your body, from your feet to the muscles in your face. This activity is designed to help you develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations, and to relieve tension wherever it is found. Research suggests that this mindfulness practice can help reduce stress, improve well-being, and decrease aches and pains.  Practice 20-45 minutes, three to six days per week.

 

Option #3 Loving-Kindness Meditation

This one consists of receiving and sending loving thoughts. Practice 15-45 minutes, one to five times per week for eight weeks.

 

Happiness practice #6: Self-Compassionate Letter

Identify something about yourself that makes you feel ashamed, insecure, or not good enough. It could be something related to your personality, behavior, abilities, relationships, or any other part of your life. Once you identify something, write it down and describe how it makes you feel. The next step is to write a letter to yourself expressing compassion, understanding, and acceptance for the part of yourself that you dislike.

Happiness practice #7: Best Possible Self

Take a moment to imagine your life in the future. What is the best possible life you can imagine? Consider all of the relevant areas of your life, such as your career, academic work, relationships, hobbies, and/or health. What would happen in these areas of your life in your best possible future? For the next 15 minutes, write continuously about what you imagine this best possible future to be.  How optimistic are you about the future and the creation of your best possible self?  Take the Optimism Test.  Is your work an issue? Take the Work-Life Questionnaire and find out your work-life satisfaction.

Happiness practice #8: Gratitude letter

Call to mind someone who did something for you for which you are extremely grateful but to whom you never expressed your deep gratitude.  Write a letter to this person. Deliver your letter in person if possible.  Read the letter to this person.  I read my gratitude letter to my mother.  She said it made her year.  

Happiness practice #9: Gratitude Journal

Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. Do this for at least 15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day.  How grateful are you?  Take the Gratitude Survey that measures your appreciation about the past. Join Thnx and sign up for the 10-Day Intensive, or 21-Day Gratitude Challenge.

Happiness practice #10: Awe Walk

This one is so simple but so powerful.  Try to do this as much as possible. Go for a walk. Turn off your cell phone. During your walk, try to approach what you see with fresh eyes, imagining that you’re seeing it for the first time.  Appreciate your surroundings.

There you have it!  Ten scientifically proven ways to make yourself happier.  Should you wish to know the reasons why these practices will make you happier,  go ahead and take the course.  It’s free, so what have you got to lose?

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About the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course

Enroll in the Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management Course

Herbal Academy just created yet another wonderful online course that I completed this month, earning me yet another little badge for my student dashboard. I’m so proud of me! This course was entitled Herbal Self-Care for Stress Management and had tons of useful information on the topic.  

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Stress is something we all experience at one time or another, for short periods of time (work deadlines) or longer periods of time (being a caretaker for a chronically ill loved one).  This course emphasized the importance of holistic care in treating the whole body and mind and, in this case, using herbs in order to become well after being subjected to periods of stress.  Can you see why I loved this class?

The course was divided into 3 units. Unit 1 presented information about how stress affects the body both physically and emotionally. Financial problems, time constraints, social interactions, cultural stressors (poverty, oppression, marginalization), natural disasters, traumatic events, excessive screen time, air, noise or light pollution, and infections are all stressors and activate that “flight or fight” survival mode. Being in a stressful “flight or fight” mode changes the rhythm of your heartbeat, inhibits proper digestion, alters breathing patterns, and raises blood sugar, none of which are conducive to a healthy body long term.  

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Unit 2 was full of suggestions on changing your diet in order to reduce the effects of stress on the body.  (See Food as Medicine) I was surprised to see how strong the gut-brain connection really is.  Adding prebiotic (whole grains such as wheat and rye, legumes, alliums like onions, garlic and leeks, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, dandelion, burdock roots) and probiotic (yogurt and milk kefir, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured pickles, miso and other fermented soy products like tempeh, and fermented drinks like kombucha and water kefir) foods to your diet will certainly help you reach a more balanced state of wellness. (See also Gut Health Super Bundle, Garlic Tea, and Herbal Fermentation) Making food from scratch, including bitters in your diet, ensuring proper hydration, taking the time to enjoy your meal without distractions, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners are also great suggestions for improving gut health.  The course included several printouts highlighting trace nutrients the body needs to reduce or eliminate the physical and emotional effects of stress.

In addition to dietary recommendations, lifestyle alterations can really make a difference to your health.  Adding practices, like mindful breathing, yoga, and Tai Chi have been shown to reduce stress.  Here, try one now.

Other things you can do to improve your health generally involve spending more time in nature and bettering your social support system.  I don’t mean more friends on Facebook, but improving the quality of your relationships.  I’ll talk more about these in an upcoming post on the Happiness Course I finished recently.

Unit 2 also had a good introduction to aromatherapy and essential oils as they relate to stress and self-care including a list of herbs shown to be most effective for a variety of stress-induced ailments.  Lavender tops the list in several categories. The course provided recipes for several aromatherapy herbal blends to try out.

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After addressing safety issues and possible drug interactions, Unit 3 outlined three types of herbs most beneficial for stress-reduction application: nervines, adaptogens, and sedatives.  Nervines are herbs that influence the nervous system in some way. Chamomile and lemon balm are nervines. Adaptogens, also known as Qi tonics or Rasayana, are herbs that assist natural adaptive responses to stress.  Licorice is an adaptogen.  Sedatives are herbs that can sedate the central and peripheral nervous systems. Hops and valerian are sedatives. There was also a section on how to make infusions, decoctions, tinctures, and tea blends using the 17 herbs highlighted.

The more I delve into herbal lore, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn.  Once upon a time, herbal remedies, medicines, and tonics were carefully preserved generation after generation. These days, it’s so easy to rely on pharmaceuticals when illness strikes and the continuity of natural healing has been lost.  What I really appreciated most about this course was that using herbs for wellness wasn’t presented as a miracle cure-all, rather incorporating herbs is only one aspect of healthy living.  The lifestyle that many live is not conducive to optimal wellness. Perhaps it’s time to take a moment and find balance.

Partial Lesson Excerpt – Herbal Academy Course on Stress Management Course

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