Tag Archives: schooling in Mexico

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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Secondary Registration

My son's back to school picture for 2016.

My son’s back to school picture for 2016.

Barely a week after the last day of the school year, it was time to register our son for his third and final year at the secondary level. We were given two sets of days to do the registering, July 21/22 and August 15/16. Over the years, experience has shown that when it comes to registration, most Mexicans choose the latest date possible, which creates lines out the wazoo. Thus, in order to beat the lines, we determined to get it done the earliest possible on the first date given.

To register, we needed to present:

*copy of the report card from the previous year

*two telephone numbers (house and cell)

*copy of proof of residence–recent

*evidence that the “voluntary” fee of $500 pesos had been paid

Not on the list, but also requested, copy of the IFE of a parent or guardian

Ok, well, we had a few problems with this list. First, we didn’t have a copy of the report card. I attended the final parent/teacher meeting the previous week and signed the report card, but as the director had yet to sign off on them, I wasn’t allowed to take it with me. Since my son was a student at the same school last year, apparently the office had a copy it, so we slid past that requirement.

Then there was the issue with the two phone numbers. We have no house phone, so it had to be two cell phone numbers. There were ok with that too.

Another issue was the proof of residence. Remember, our home in La Yacata does not have water, sewage or electricity, thus no bills to prove we live there. We presented our title certificate and a letter from the president of the association verifying that we live there. They always put up a big fuss when we present this, but in the end, they had to take it because we have no other proof of residence.

That $500 “voluntary” fee was brought up during the parent/teacher meeting. Most of the parents understand that it’s a necessary evil. However, they did want the powers that be to give an accounting of how the money was spent. In some schools, the fee pays for the water for the bathrooms or the electricity for the computer room. In others, it buys paint so that the classrooms can be painted over the summer or is used so that desks can be repaired. At this school, the supposed purchase was didactic material. It just seemed a little vague to most. So a formal request was made by the parents in my son’s classroom for a declaration from the school board, specifying what was purchased. I doubt we’ll see anything, though.

In previous years, we paid the fee at the school before getting in the registration line with the receipt. This year, we were given an account number at Bancomer to make the deposit. At the bank, we were not asked for any sort of identification, and no identifying name was written on the receipt. Whose to say that one receipt could not be used for multiple students? Guess that’s not my problem.

My husband is the “official” parent for this type of transaction because nobody seems to like my permanent residency card. We hadn’t made a copy of his ID because well, it wasn’t on the list. But they requested one. There is a papeleria (stationery store) across from the school, but their copier was out of order. So it required a quick trip to the farmacia (pharmacy) for a copy.

In return for this pile of papers, my son received a list of utilies (required school supplies) for the coming school year.

On the first day of school, he needed to bring:

*2 professional size notebooks, either lined or with big squares (like graph paper)

*6 lined professional size notebooks–lined

*1 pencil, eraser, and sharpener

*some pens in black, red and blue (doesn’t specify quantity so we decided one of each color would be good enough)

*1 glue stick, ruler and a pair of scissors

*1 Spanish language dictionary

*1 flute (actually a recorder)

*1 art book to be determined the first week of classes

*1 geometry set

*1 scientific calculator

The following materials will be turned into the office or teacher for use during the school year.

*1 broche baco (I had to look this up to see what it was. It’s a butterfly clip for documents.)

*3 plastic folders –legal size

*100 sheets of white printer paper

*20 sheets of various colored letter-size paper

*5 folders, color and size to be determined (We bought 5 letter size yellow folders and called it good.)

As the notebooks cost upwards of 40 pesos each and the scientific calculator doesn’t come cheap, it was quite a list. Plus, my son, at 14 is growing at a phenomenal rate. He needs a new gym uniform ($500 pesos) and a new daily uniform ($400 pesos) plus shoes for each outfit. The uniforms can only be purchased at a few retailers, and the prices are set. We ended up with 1 gym jacket and pants set, 2 gym shirts, 2 daily pants, 3 daily shirts and a sweater.

And we had a whopping 4 weeks to get everything together. We managed to get everything on the list except a new pair of dress shoes and the art book which has yet to be determined. Thank goodness for my new online teaching job!

The first day of school was August 22 this year and the school year is extended once again. We finish on the far-away date of July 18.  Well, I’m mighty glad that this will be the last official school year.  Once this is done, the sky’s the limit baby!

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Life in Mexico–from the perspective of my 13 year old son

Have you ever wondered what life is like for your children?  As an adult, I’ve come to accept the hardships and limitations of our life here in Mexico, although sometimes not as gracefully as I should.  When I read my son’s guest blog post, I had the opportunity to look at our life through his eyes.  I hope you enjoy his little contribution.

My life

by guest blogger WPFT.

La Yacata

I live in a small neighborhood called La Yacata. It’s called La Yacata because it has a small mountain of stones in the middle of it. There are like 7 families that live there, and we are pretty many neighbors even though we live a mile away from each other. My grandpa and my uncle live up the hill from where we do.  It’s mostly trees and rocks and stuff. The roads are very badly paved. Most of my classmates and most of the people I meet think I live in a cave because we have no electricity. They don’t know how to survive that way. However, our living conditions are ok compared to some people because we are comfortable with the money we have, but we could still get more.

finished front

I’m in the second grade of middle school. I get up very early, at 5:30 am and go to school until 1:40 pm. My grades are pretty good. I like math. I don’t like physics and art. There are 45 kids in my class. I would like if the school had grass on the fields so that it’s more comfortable and easier to play there. (See Why we chose to send our child to public school in Mexico)

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After school is over, I walk to the school where my mom works and play on the computer awhile. I like to play Minecraft, Halo, and Fable. I like to come to the school to play because we don’t have electricity at our house.

At 4:30 pm I go to soccer practice until 6:30 pm. During training, we run and jog. I train as a goalkeeper. The other kids make shots, and I stop them. I play goalkeeper on two teams. The difference between the two teams is that one team is made up of 12- and 13-year-olds and the other team are 15+-year-olds. I play with them even though I’m only 13. The little team is pretty good. We’re in third place on the ranking board.

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After that, I go home to tend to the horses, goats, chickens and cats for about 2 hours. And let’s not forget about our dog Chokis. I give them water and feed them. I take the goats and horses out awhile so they can eat. The horses eat grass. The goats enjoy eating short grass and tree branches. With the goats, sometimes it’s very difficult to take care of them because they run around. There’s not a day that goes by that Chokis doesn’t go with me and the animals. Most of the time I listen to music while I’m out with the animals. I also like to read a book. When I bring them in, first I bring in the goats because if I bring in the horses first, the goats will run away. And then I go back and get the horses. After that, I give them water and feed them for the night. (See Our Family Hobby)

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Enjoying a book on Kindle!

Then I read and go to bed, preparing myself for another day. Sometimes I play on my laptop when I take it home. I read with the flashlight in the night. I like to read adventure books. Sometimes I watch a movie on the portable DVD player. I like to watch comedy movies. I used to play on my phone, but now it has a tumor, and I can only see one corner of the screen.  I have no idea when my mom is going to buy me a new one.  I wash my face a lot, and then I go to bed.

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Watching a movie on my DVD player.

On Saturdays, I go to the school where my mom works and use the computer and listen to music. I do a Portuguese course on DuoLingo and play Minecraft or watch YouTube videos. After that, I do my homework and take out the animals….again.

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On Sundays, I go to wash clothes and then to my soccer game in the mornings. In the afternoons, I read a book and help my mom clean the house.

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A picture of a younger me doing laundry!

Sometimes my life is very boring because I have nothing to do or brothers or sisters to play with. Sometimes my mom is very annoying because she wants me to do boring stuff like write this blog post. My dad is very annoying because he makes me do stuff when I’m doing something else.

My life would be better if we had electricity and a fair amount of money and less animals because sometimes they are just too much for me to handle. Overall, life is medium-good, but it could be better.

See it in video format!

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Why we chose to send our child to elementary school in Mexico

first grade

Then there was the decision to send our son to elementary school. We live in an isolated rural area so small that it doesn’t even qualify as a village. Although there are inhabitants in La Yacata despite the difficult living conditions, there were not any children our son’s age. He is also an only child, so socialization was one reason we opted to travel the 20 minutes to town every day.

A secondary reason, although somewhat related to the first, was the fact that we felt that schooling would help him learn what was necessary for successful interactions in the community. Although my husband is Mexican, he is not from this area, and his difference in speech and custom is often remarked negatively upon. I am not Mexican and would therefore not have been the best teacher in this regard for my son.

Registration for Primaria (Elementary school) takes place in February before students finish preschool. There are often long lines of parents waiting to register since there are always more students than cupo (available seats). In most public schools, there are two turnos (sessions), matutino (in the morning) and vespertino (in the afternoon.) Everyone seems to want the morning classes insisting the students learn better and the teachers are more qualified than the afternoon classes. However, the morning teachers are just as likely to be the same as the afternoon teachers since many teachers teach 2 turnos (sessions), teacher pay being what it is in Mexico. Furthermore, studies have shown that students actually perform better and retain more in the early afternoon than in the morning.  The morning class typically begins between 7:50 and 8:10 am and ends at 12:30 pm. The afternoon session begins between 2 pm and 2:10 pm and may end at 6:30 pm or as late as 7:30 pm depending on the school. Private schools have somewhat extended hours and only one turno (session) which runs typically from 7:50 am to 2:30 pm.

We opted to send our son to the afternoon session. Why waste the best part of the day cooped up in a stuffy classroom? Therefore, while I went to work at a private elementary school teaching English, in the mornings, for 6 years, my son stayed with his dad, taking care of the animals, working on the house, or just riding his bike. Then when the day became too hot for outdoor activities, (this is Mexico after all), he went to school. He spent 4 1/2 hours in the classroom with perhaps 15 minutes of homework each day.

Primaria (Elementary) begins when about half of the students are just 5 years old since the same age requirements apply as preschool. Half enter reading Spanish, and half are still learning their letters. The pressure for reading and general learning eases off in primaria (elementary) since teachers are not allowed to fail students unless they make a personal appeal to the school board in Guanajuato. This educational reform has only been in practice 3 or 4 years. It is now just fine for students to finish second grade without being able to read, write their names or do simple mathematics. It seems that the shame in failing a grade outweighs any educational rationale although the debate still wages as to whether failing a grade does more harm than good.  Perhaps if there were more resources and support available for teachers in Mexico, more children would be better educated. But then again, maybe the government isn’t interested in having well-educated citizens.

Schools are required to teach Spanish, Mathematics, History, Exploración de la Naturaleza (Earth Science), Formación Cívica y Etica (moral values), art, music, physical education, English, and Computer Literacy. Yes, English is now a required course even in the public schools. However, there is a decided lack of qualified teachers. Many teachers have been certificated as English teachers on the basis of being able to pass the TOEFL exam. (See Getting Legal–Working Papers) Unfortunately, there is a world of difference in knowing a language and being able to teach it effectively.  But fortunately for my son, I am a licensed English teacher, so no problem there!

elementary school

Grading is done on a scale of 10, 10 being the highest grade and 6 being the lowest passing grade. A 5 indicates the student has not passed, although, with the ban on failing students, it is rare that any student receives a 5 anymore. Each classroom has anywhere from 24 to 40 students, making it a challenge to meet every child’s learning needs.

Up until 2014, students were required to take a standardized end-of-year exam called ENLACE. The current president, Peña Nieto, has disbanded the ENLACE exam. However, his educational reforms have been clearly modeled on the current U.S. standards, and now teachers can be dismissed on the basis of their students’ grades. I think that there will be another exam issued nationally to take the place of the ENLACE in the very near future despite fervent protests and marches by the teachers’ union.

The extended school year is interspersed with random vacation days. Every month, teachers are required to attend a meeting, and school is canceled. 2014 marked the first year that these required work days were tacked onto the student calendar, which meant summer vacation didn’t start until July 15, well into the rainy season in our area. As the 2014-2015 school year began on August 18, that left less than 5 weeks of summer break. The academic year currently runs 200 days.

elementary school inside

There is an extensive Christmas vacation in December, that begins December 19 or 20, but since Las Posadas begins on the 16th, the vacation isn’t nearly long enough. School starts back up typically on January 7th, just one day after Los Reyes Magos deliver gifts. Seems a bit unfair that the kiddies only get one day to enjoy their gifts after having waited the entire vacation period, but, hey I didn’t make the rules. Semana Santa is also a long vacation and actually lasts 2 weeks in March or April. May is the most tiresome month to get through as a teacher, but fantastic for the students. Not only is it the hottest month in our area, but there are a number of special days commemorated. Beginning with April 30 there is El Día de Los Niños. (See Cultural Apathy) Then May 1 is El Día del Trabajo (Labour Day), May 5 is the commemoration of La Batalla de Puebla (The Battle in Puebla day), May 10 is El Día de la Madre (Mother’s Day), and May 15 is El Día del Maestro (Teacher’s Day).

Exams are administered bi-monthly and are usually taken over the period of a week. Early on in this segment of schooling, we discovered some issues. My son’s lowest grades and highest frustration levels were in Formación Cívica y Etica, which is something along the lines of Mexican Moral values. Even the kids that weren’t passing any other subject were getting 8s and 9s in this subject, so why not my son? Upon examining the exams, I discovered that many questions had to do with Mexican dichos (sayings). For instance:

Lo que empieza con gran coraje termina

1) con gran orgullo

2) con gran vergüenza

3) con gran ventaja

The answer is 2, but I wouldn’t have known it, not being a Mexican and all. My husband had no formal schooling to speak of, so wasn’t much help in exam preparation either.

How about this one?

In Mexico la muerte nos…..

The answer is …pela los dientes.

Come again?

So it stands to reason that Formacion civica etica was a trial for my son throughout his elementary years.

Since this sort of schooling was not enough for a well-rounded education, we augmented part-time unschooling. (See Homeschool variation) There were and continue to be so many opportunities for learning in our area, or perhaps we just look for the possibilities. My son also often accompanied me to my private English classes, sometimes as an additional student to the class, other times with his own activity book. After all, he may decide that this place we call home is not for him and set off on his own adventures one day, English might be beneficial when that time comes.

school days

My son did well in the traditional classroom and besides being in the honor roll all 6 years was part of the escolta (honor guard) in sixth grade. As only the best and brightest are chosen, (See Independence day) it was quite an honor. He was also selected by his teachers to read a despidida (farewell) poem during the graduation ceremony. His high achievement led to his being recommended into the better of two secondary schools in the area, and a shot at the matutino (in the morning) session.

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