The pioneering and iconic Prospera social protection programme, which has a focus on education, is being incrementally replaced after 21 years, countless achievements, and recognition as a model to be emulated by the world (Kidd, 2019). The end of the programme as we know it can be attributed to multiple critiques: Poor targeting, high exclusion error, corruption, low public support, and conditionalities that incur unintended negatives effects (Ibid.). So, what is the future of education and social protection in Mexico?
The education system in Mexico
The right to secular education is enshrined in the Constitution of Mexico: Education is mandatory for students between the ages of 6 – 15. Even so, 13.1% of the country is illiterate. Mandatory education starts with preschool, for children age 4 - 5. Primary school, primaria, is for age 6 - 12. Secondary school, educacio secundaria, is split into the mandatory component, from age 12 - 15, and the non-mandatory component, prepartoria, from age 15 - 18.
In the mandatory element or the educacio secundaria, education is primarily divided between vocational and academic streams: The academic stream usually continues on to prepatoria. Prepatoria, also offers two different streams: Academic or professional technical. Prepatoria’s are varied, with different entrance requirements for each. Some are affiliated with universities, some are state controlled, and others are controlled by private institutions. The students who choose the technical track, progresia, earn a certification as a technician, while those in academic vocations usually go on to university.
Universities in Mexico are largely structured around the United States (US) model, with various types of institutions, mainly divided into public and private. Each Mexican state has a public state university and a teacher training college. The degrees are usually based around the American system, with some focusing on technical proficiency and others on more academic qualifications.
Social protection in Mexico
Prospera, previously known as Progresa (1997 - 2002) and Oportunidades (2002 - 2014), was implemented in response to the economic crisis that hit Mexico in 1994 - 1995. It is a conditional cash transfer programme, focusing on education, health, and nutrition outcomes. It transfers a monthly cash grant to unemployed mothers in poor households who have limited educational attainment.
The mothers are given grants that increase as their children progress through primary and high school. Grants begin at around US$ 10.50 per month, to around US$ 55 a month for boys and US$ 66 a month for girls. The grants are conditional on the child attending school, as well as meeting certain health and nutritional requirements. The payments are generally given to the female head of the family as it has been seen that they spend the cash more effectively.
Prospera has managed to have some positive impacts on the education system. Findings by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reveal that Progresa (Prospera’s previous iteration) benefitted Mexican education:
- It increased education attainment by about 10%,
- increased school attendance and retention rates for boys and girls significantly,
- reached 6.2 million households,
- provided basic healthcare to the whole family, and
- provided money for good nutrition for the family.
The future of education in Mexico
The total spending on education in Mexico is far less than the Latin American regional average: Mexico contributes 3.7% of its gross domestic product (GDP), the highest spending by the Mexican administration on the public sector, but substantially lower than the regional average of 5%. Furthermore, 30% of Prospera’s benefits do not reach its intended beneficiaries. Such factors account for the unpopularity of the programme among voters, including the poor, who would prefer a universal education system.
The Mexican government will replace Prospera with the Benito Juarez scholarship fund, which will “give a grant to all teenagers attending upper secondary education in public schools. Its aim is to tackle the challenge Mexico faces of only 59% of children finishing secondary school, with many leaving at around the age of 15 years due to financial constraints” (Kidd, 2019). However, the removal of the conditional health and nutrition requirements of Prospera present a gap. That being said, President Lopez Obrador appears to recognise the value of universal social protection. Hopefully an inclusive child benefit will be implemented to fill this gap (Kidd, 2019).
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