Serious Business in Oaxaca Education

7 Jun

Today is election day here in Mexico, and teachers are out in the streets, burning ballots and other voting materials. In Oaxaca City things were the most extreme, and they arrested 88 teachers there, but the protests are happening throughout the state, including here in my little coastal town. It’s all part of the ongoing protest against the new educational reform.

Here’s a photo from El Diario:

And here’s a shot a friend took from here in Puerto:IMG-20150607-WA0003

This time around, teachers have been on strike for over a week, so all public school students are out of classes. It’s predicted that they’ll be out through the end of the school year, which ends next month. I don’t know exactly what affect that will have on their grades, on their education in general, but I am sure that it affects their education in the long and short term, and not in a good way. I am sure that it affects some parents who might be scrambling to find childcare- although it doesn’t affect as many that way as it would in the U.S.

The strikes and protests affect the general public in all kinds of ways, too, of course. For instance, before the elections, the teachers had shut down the airport in Oaxaca City, not letting anyone in. They were also blocking an oil refinery, effectively preventing gasoline from being produced or going out on the market (at least I heard it was a refinery, although later I read they were blocking gas stations). By Thursday we were hearing that there was no gasoline available in Oaxaca City, and by noon there were lines winding their way all through the gas station and out into the street. We filled up our tank and ran out to the grocery store, just in case they blockaded there, too, which is a frequent occurrence. A friend of ours was telling us how one time when the teachers were on strike for over two months, it put so many people out of work with their protests that taxi drivers and all kinds of other workers were all out looking for aluminum cans to sell and other desperate measures. The teachers union in the state of Oaxaca, Section 22 of the National Union of Workers, as it’s called, is serious business.

Unfortunately, it is serious business in more ways than one. As in, it’s big business because the union itself (its leaders) are profitting the most, and the students are not winning much of anything. Normally, I’m a big fan of teachers and unions and thus of any protests they might stage. But the teacher’s union here is more like the mafia than what I’d like to imagine as a union of fabulous people, aka teachers. The teachers get some great benefits, thanks to the union, but they also pretty much have their hands tied by the union. They are obligated to go to protests. Usually they are fined in they don’t participate, and additionally, they get their name at the bottom or the list for other benefits like loans if they don’t have good participation points. From what I’ve heard from teachers, they don’t really have any say in what goes on.

Furthermore, it’s always a bit vague exactly what they’re protesting. Whenever there’s a strike I have to dig and dig on the internet media to find some reason why it’s happening. Apparently the media doesn’t think anybody needs to know, or that we don’t care why- just that there is a strike happening is enough information.

Now, I am not the most informed person on Earth about this by any stretch of the imagination. So I’m just repeating these bits and pieces of info that I’ve picked up, mostly from teachers themselves. (And no, the university I work for doesn’t have a union, and definitely not this union.) I do know that this time around, they are protesting the big Education Reform, which they’ve been protesting on and off since it came out nationally.

The reform wants teachers to be on contract and to be able to get rid of teachers who don’t live up to some basic standards. They want to do away with this union entirely. which normally I’d be against, too. But in this case a total overhaul of the union would be the minimum action possible to make a positive change in education. The reform also proposes to do away with the current system of being able to sell your position when you retire. This current system is a serious problem because you end up with some teachers who have zero training to be teachers. Nobody wants that for their kids’ education. We should be demanding quality teachers who can at least past a standardized test. Are standardized tests a total solution? Of course not. But it’s better than nothing.

Education in Mexico is already some of the worst in the world (it ranked one of the worst 3 out of 50 in this study: http://http://www.ibtimes.com/us-17th-global-education-ranking-finland-south-korea-claim-top-spots-901538) Here in Oaxaca it is worse than in the rest of the country, partly but not exclusively due to the serious poverty in the state. Reform is desperately needed. But the proposed reform doesn’t take into account the circumstances in Oaxaca. It doesn’t take into account the indigenous languages spoken here. It talks about getting a computer for every classroom when many schools don’t even have real classrooms, or other basic, necessary resources. So it certainly has problems, and I would bet that even if it gets put into effect in some way here, it will only help minimally.

So what is the solution? The union is strong enough to make change happen, but so far it hasn’t benefitted education here. If only these strikes and protests would draw the right attention to Oaxaca, would cause enough of a stir to somehow make some real, positive change in the system, to make a change in children’s lives. That would be some seriously good business. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

For some further reading in English on this union :

http://http://www.mexicogulfreporter.com/2013/08/oaxaca-education-at-mercy-of-omnipotent.html

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