Monthly Archives: March 2012

South of the Border

In light of a recent explosion of social media and its groundbreaking effects, it comes as no surprise that a new documentary has precipitated considerable outrage and at the very least, awareness. And no, I’m not talking about the KONY 2012 film campaign, not this time.

The documentary, known as “¡De Panzazo!”, brought in $870,000 in February on its opening weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film, reminiscent of the U.S. ‘Waiting for “Superman” ’ has sparked more discussions since.

De Panzazo is slang for “barely passing”, according to an article by USA Today. Scripps News says it is Spanish for “belly flop.”

Either way, that seems to be a correct reflection of how the filmmakers view the education system of Mexico. According to a Foundry blog, an offshoot of The Heritage Foundation, the documentary exposes the Mexican education system as one characterized by “ little accountability, careless spending, little competition, and a powerful teachers union that is more concerned with protecting teachers than student educational achievement.”

And, says the USA Today article, Mexicans are largely unaware of these apparent shortcomings in the system—the surprisingly high statistics on teacher absenteeism and the failing government oversight of the education system.

And these problems are further exacerbated in the rural, most poor areas of the country.

According to USA Today, the documentary revealed that the average Mexican is educated for eight years, as opposed to an average of thirteen years in the U.S. and Canada.

It is not merely a problem of poverty, although the article cites incidents of holding classes outdoors because of the lack of rooms. Actually, a rise in private education has been evident in the last 30 years in Mexico. Yet USA Today recognizes this not as a solution, but adding to the problem: students in these private schools are achieving generally similar scores on standardized tests as public schools, because they are taught to memorize and spit out information rather than problem-solve.

USA Today says the documentary places the blame for these issues largely on the shoulders of the National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE), a powerful union that controls the education system in Mexico.

Yet the mother of a Mexican teen prodigy told the Los Angeles Times that the concern should be placed on personal responsibility, and a focus shifted from depending on authorities or other higher-ups and finding support in the household.

That is, after all, how 17-year-old Andrew Almazan earned his psychology degree and is now working toward a degree in medicine. He is the director of child psychology at the Center for Attention to Talent.

Though it is encouraging to see a bright student achieving such success, I am left to wonder how easily this can be accomplished for other Mexican students. The Los Angeles Times article says Andrew was raised in a middle-class section of Mexico City, so class may also be a large contributing factor to his success.

Article 3 of Mexico’s 1917 Constitution mandates compulsory elementary education and free education. The Constitution has laid out the opportunities, but they seem stifled by the union in charge. I encourage you to learn more through the documentary, “¡De Panzazo!”. I could only find the trailer in Spanish, but here it is:


Kenya and Somalia

Source: Al Jazeera

From a distance at least, it is difficult to make any conclusions about
the state of Kenya’s education system. This international report by Radio France Internationale says that Kenya is right on track to achieve the United Nations’ second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015.

Citing phenomenal growth in Kenya’s primary school system (93 percent enrollment rates) the article extols the progress being made in the areas of information communication and technology as fuel for the country’s growth in both primary and secondary education.

An article published in late February by Voice of America explained some roadblocks to Kenya’s primary school success. The article states that the Kenya Education Support Sector Program was started in 2005, with $5.8 billion earmarked for improving the quality of education and making more educational opportunities available.

Here is the appraisal document for the program.

Yet according to Voice of America, rumors of fraud within the ministry of education and the education system of Kenya as a whole started to surface in 2009. By the next year, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission listed dozens of education officials suspected of theft, with some already appearing in court.

Al Jazeera reported in June that around $50 million was missing from the ministry of education.

Somalia, a neighbor to Kenya, may be considered to be in a worse state of education than Kenya. A Washington Post article says: “Only about a third of children of primary-school age are enrolled in school, according to UNICEF.”

As Somalia continues to face round after round of militia violence, there is a generation of children being raising in such violent conditions. The main conflict started in 1991—to give some perspective, I was born in 1992. The generation being raised in this violence is full of 20-somethings like myself.

And apparently as a result of this, Somali children like to play war. According to the article, children are less interested in education and more interested in fighting.

Washington Post: “We need to make sure that this generation receives quality basic education, access to social services and protection from violence and abuse,” Sikander Khan, the top official for the U.N. children’s agency in Somalia said. “This will stop them being sucked into the continuing violence and they will then be able to make a positive and lasting contribution to the future of Somalia.”

Though the situation appears to be very hopeless, school enrollment rates are increasing in Somalia. The article states that Somalia had 285,000 children in school in 2003-2004, and now there are 760,000 in the 2011-2012 school year.

An article by Oxfam highlights the need and demand for a higher-quality education system and access for children in Somalia. It is a chief concern for parents amid the conflicts and violence dominating the country.

My hope is that Somalia can get at least a foothold in peace. That they can build up their education system and encourage participation by providing better opportunities and incentives.

The Philippines, Tim Tebow and more

Tim Tebow in the Philippines

In the U.S and especially at my university, there is an awful lot of buzz going on about Tim Tebow. Most of the talk around here is praise for the young NFL quarterback, although he’s withstood some harsh criticism and mocking as well.

Because we have become so fascinated with Tebow’s life and upbringing, most of us know that Tebow grew up in a missionary family serving in the Philippines. Perhaps that is even the first thing some of us think of when we hear about the Philippines.

I wanted to know more about the country, particularly the living conditions and educational opportunities there.  The Tebow family has helped and continues to help maintain an orphanage there. The rest of their work falls under evangelistic categories.

But what about the rest of the country? Since it has undoubtedly gotten at least some amount of press coverage, has this helped?

I looked up some statistics. In the State of the World’s Children 2012 report by UNICEF, I found that the Philippines ranked number 80 in under-5 mortality rates in 2010. To put that in perspective, the U.S placed at 145th.

This is an OK indication of the country’s economic status, but not the only data to be looked at. It seems that most of the poverty experienced in the Philippines is focused in the cities. Manila, the capital, is densely populated and devastatingly mired in slum poverty.

So educating children in large cities like Metro Manila should be a high priority. On January 20, the President of the Philippines signed into law the Republic Act No. 10157, or the Kindergarten Education Law, according to the Philstar.

The Kindergarten Education Law provides for free and compulsory kindergarten education starting in the 2012-2013 school year. Children must pass kindergarten under this act. The article states that through the new law, the Department of Education hopes to improve student performance and curb early dropout rates.

Otherwise, UNICEF’s statistics on primary school are hopeful: the primary school net enrollment rate in the Philippines was at 92 percent from 2007-2009.

Another promising stat: literacy rates among young adults (ages 15 to 24) remained at a high 97 percent for males and 98 percent for females between the years of 2005 and 2010.

Secondary school enrollment rates don’t look as good. They hovered between 55 and 66 percent from 2007-2010. And there is still a lot of room for improvement, many would argue, especially in the realm of higher education. According to an article by Bernama, a Malaysian news agency, World Bank leaders are calling for an improved higher education system in order to boost the Philippine economy. Employers are finding a significant gap in creativity, leadership and problem-solving skills in several Philippine industries, presumable because of this lack of higher education.

The article states that this can be helped by improving the university system in the Philippines, as well as with better allocation of funds to the schools. This is an issue I have researched before, in countries I’ve covered on this blog such as South Africa. There seems to be a widespread call for an improved higher education system.

For more info on the Kindergarten Education Law: