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Mexico's formal integration into the global economy by way of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, has had impact on the expansion of education at levels. The education reforms of the early 1990s were in keeping with the government's intentions to prepare Mexico to enter NAFTA; therefore, the long overdue expansion of compulsory basic education to include lower secondary education was quickly implemented. At the same time, upper secondary education became more accessible due to the increase in the construction of new schools and the expansion of new programs of study. For example, the creation of technological universities, based on the French model, and the enlargement of the teachertraining curriculum were part of an integral approach to improve the human resource pool. Confronted with competition from its two northern neighbors, Mexico had to accelerate the quality and quantity of technical education.

In 1999, Mexico signed about 323 international agreements to promote research and cooperation in educational matters. In terms of bilateral agreements, 26 were signed with different U.S. entities. In 1998, two agreements were signed with the World Bank; one to enhance basic education particularly in isolated rural and indigenous areas; the other, to finance higher education projects such as scholarship for students of all economic backgrounds. Mexico has continuously pursued bilateral and multilateral agreements to boost the educational opportunities of its people. Through the CONACyT, the Science and Technology National Council, many students pursuing graduate studies have benefited from generous scholarship to attend colleges in Mexico or in other countries. In 1999 there were 17,851 scholarships through CONACyT, of which 3,828 were granted to those involved in graduate and postgraduate studies abroad.

Notwithstanding the progress in educational attainment of the Mexican population, economic pressures have widened the gap between rich and poor. At the same time, Mexico's democratic transition has brought to the forefront candid discussions about educational opportunities. There is evidence suggesting the need for improvements in access and quality at all levels of the educational system. Of particular urgency is the need to meet the demands of the most marginalized segments of society. In this regard, the indigenous population is the most impacted, not only in terms of access to education, but also in terms of their portrayal in the school's curriculum. Speaking about this last point, prominent education intellectual Pablo Latapí Serra commented that "our racism is rooted in the denial of the cultures of currently living Indians and the official glorification of the dead Indian. I don't know of concrete measures [in curricula] that would help teachers and pupils reach awareness of their racist attitudes in daily behavior."

Another problem facing the educational system is the few incentives offered by the teaching profession in Mexico. As in most Latin American countries, teachers are poorly paid in Mexico. Economic conditions affecting the country during the 1980s and the 1990s brought the salaries of teachers to new lows. The challenges facing this nation are enormous and education continues to be the key.


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—Laurence Armand French and
Magdaleno Manzanárez

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