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:

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