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Mexico Education Facts


The children in Mexico are expected to attend compulsory preschool for three years before starting primary school at the age of six. According to a 2013 decision, compulsory schooling in the regular school is being extended from nine to twelve years, but it is expected to be delayed before it is fully implemented. Despite major investments in education since the 1990s, the quality of teaching is often poor.

A majority of Mexican children attend preschool, almost all of them attend the first six school years and most also the three-year equivalent high school. Around half of the young people also complete upper secondary school, which is divided into vocational and college preparatory classes. The exceptions are mainly found among indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. To increase schooling for these groups, the government has introduced programs with scholarships, school transfers and contributions to school materials.

  • COUNTRYAAH: Country facts of Mexico, including geography profile, population statistics, and business data.

Success has been great in getting children to go to school, but the study results are often poor. Criticism has been directed at the fact that an excessive share of resources goes to teacher salaries and not to premises and materials.

The vast majority of students attend state schools that are free. The schools work in shifts, the children go either in the morning or in the afternoon. Absence is high, many attend classes or drop out completely.

When Enrique Peña Nieto was elected President in 2012, a comprehensive education reform was on the program, aimed at improving education and creating a more equitable and modern school. It also included plans to eradicate corruption in the teachers’ unions, which governed employment. Many teachers in Mexico bought or inherited their jobs, and it was not uncommon for them to lack education themselves. Compulsory tests were introduced for all teachers with independent evaluations and promises of salary lift and career depending on results. A “teacher census” – the first ever – showed that tens of thousands of teacher salaries were paid illegally to, among other things, administrators and even “ghost teachers” – people who were dead, retired or for other reasons were never in the classrooms.

These investments led Peña Nieto to a collision course with the influential teachers’ unions (see also Current Policy and the Labor Market). The contradictions led to clashes that in the summer of 2016 degenerated into fatal violence in southern Mexico. Several union leaders were arrested on suspicion of money laundering and other crimes. The protests led to schools being closed for long periods.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who succeeded Peña Nieto in December 2018, had as one of his main campaign promises to tear down education reform, which he claimed would lead to privatizations in the education system. Already after a few months, Congress approved a proposal for a new educational reform that guarantees free schooling from preschool to college. Teachers must, according to the proposal, which must be ratified by the Länder before it can take effect, have access to continuous skills development.

Around a quarter of Mexicans also attend some form of college. There are a large number of universities and other higher education institutions. The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City has over 300,000 students and is the largest university in Latin America. It is also considered one of the most prestigious universities.

  • Andyeducation: Introduction to education system in Mexico, including compulsory schooling and higher education.


Proportion of children starting primary school

95.3 percent (2017)

Number of pupils per teacher in primary school

27 (2016)

Reading and writing skills

94.9 percent (2016)

Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP

19.0 percent (2015)

Public expenditure on education as a percentage of the state budget

19.0 percent (2015)



New electoral laws are adopted

New electoral laws are adopted and mean that congressmen from 2018 will be able to be re-elected (senators once and members of the Chamber of Deputies three times). In addition, the rules for campaign financing are tightened and a new electoral authority is set up.

Partial privatization of the oil industry is approved

Congress is adopting a contentious proposal to open up the state-controlled oil industry for foreign investment. The law gives foreign oil companies the right to drill for oil and gas in collaboration with the state Pemex and participate in the development of new gas and oil fields. Mexico is believed to have, among other things, large untapped assets of shale gas and oil beneath the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico. Within a few days, half of the federal units (states and Mexico City) have also passed the law, which is required because it involves changes in the constitution. Earlier this month tens of thousands demonstrated in the capital in protest of the proposal.

The left leaves a deal with the government

The PRD announces that the party is withdrawing from the Mexico Pact. This is in protest against the change in energy policy which is about to be approved, which means that private interests are admitted into the oil sector.

Mass graves are found in two states

Two graves with a total of 64 people are found in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán, in an area where drug war fighting is ongoing. The discovery is made in pursuit of two police officers who disappeared in November. Since then, 25 people, including 22 police officers, have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the disappearance and in contact with the drug forces.


Major investment in drug lighters’ control in Michoacán

The government is launching a major effort to try to “regain” control in the state where “self-defense groups” and drug lords have recently clashed. The effort is concentrated on the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, which is one of two main sites for importing chemicals used in drug production. Already, 5,500 extra police and military have been sent to the state, and an attempt has been made to reduce the number of weapons among the inhabitants. People are offered cash and computers in exchange, which has resulted in close to 1,600 weapons handed over in five months. Some time into the month, a mayor is found murdered in his car. He has previously spoken publicly about how a drug cartel is blackmailing him and other mayors in Michoacán.


New law allows for pardon

A new law comes into force that gives the president the right to pardon prisoners whose human rights are considered to have been violated. Peña Nieto immediately apologizes to a Tzotzil Native American teacher who has served 13 years in prison for murder, but who has always denied crime and, according to human rights groups, has been subjected to an abuse of justice. The teacher must have been innocently designated for an assault in connection with the Zapatist uprising in Chiapas (see Modern History).


Storms cause major damage

Two tropical storms hit the country at about the same time, causing major damage. Around 150 people are killed and hundreds of thousands are driven from their homes. The Pacific coast is hit by Manuel – a storm that was later upgraded to the hurricane – and the storm Ingrid, which also had hurricane strength, advances across the Caribbean coast. A few thousand tourists are evacuated from Acapulco and thousands more are stranded. It is the first time in over half a century that two severe storms hit the same day.

Teacher evaluation is approved despite continued protests

Congress approves the president’s educational reform with mandatory teacher evaluations, in a victory for Peña Nieto. PAN leader Gustavo Madero calls education reform the first final result in the president’s “pact for Mexico”. Even the PRD’s Jesús Zambrano is positive, calling education reform “a true revolution” and a necessary tool for social mobility. Within PRD, however, there is a certain division; there are groups that support the teachers’ union. The teachers have continued with their protests. At the start of the semester in August, 1 million children could not attend school because of a teacher strike. Around 50,000 striking teachers then blocked the congress building in Mexico City for several days. When the law is to be passed, teachers will clash with the riot police and the president’s speech to the nation may be postponed one day and held elsewhere than planned.

US espionage provokes criticism

Mexico, together with Brazil, demands a declaration from the United States, after it was revealed that the US intelligence service NSA has spied on the two countries’ presidents and eavesdropped electronic communications within senior management. The information comes from the American whistleblower Edward Snowden via the British newspaper The Guardian. Later, new information comes that US electronic surveillance also included former President Calderón’s e-mail. The Foreign Ministry calls the spying “unacceptable and illegal”.

The Juarez cartel leader is arrested

Alberto Carrillo Fuentes, also known as Betty la Fea (Fula Betty), is arrested in the state of Nayarit in the west. He is the third suspect cartel leader arrested during the year. The Juárez cartel was one of the most powerful in the 1990s, but the Sinaloa cartel has taken control of many of its former smuggling routes. Much of the violence in Chihuahua and in the city of Juárez is believed to be due to rivalry between the two cartels.


The leader of the Golf cartel is arrested

Another of the country’s most sought-after arrests: Mario Ramírez Treviño, aka X-20, who is the leader of the Golf cartel. The United States and Mexico had promised a reward for Ramirez Treviño in the same order of magnitude as for Treviño Morales (see July 2013), and Ramírez Treviño is considered at least as brutal as this one. Ramírez Treviño is believed to have taken over after predecessor Jorge Eduardo Costilla (see September 2012), and is believed to have tried to reunite the Golfo and Zeta cartels. From the beginning, the Zetas were a kind of armed branch of the Golf cartel, until they split in 2010.


The leader of the Zeta cartel is arrested

Marine Corps seizes Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, leader of one of the country’s most powerful and violent drugs forces, Zetas. Treviño Morales, aka Z-40, has become notorious for unusual brutality.


New media law is adopted

As part of President Peña Nieto ‘s political “pact” with the leading opposition parties, a legislative package is adopted that will liberalize the telecommunications and media sectors. Foreign ownership is allowed at 100 percent in telecommunications and up to 49 percent in media. Furthermore, an independent monitoring agency will be set up and two new national TV channels created.


Teacher protests are becoming violent

In the state of Guerrero, unrest erupts when masked teachers attack buildings belonging to both the PRI and PAN and PRD governments, which support educational reform (see February 2013).


Influential teacher trainee leaders are arrested

The day after the package was adopted, the teachers’ union SNTE’s powerful leader Elba Esther Gordillo Morales was arrested, suspected of embezzlement and organized crime. Gordillo Morales has led Latin America’s largest trade union for over 20 years and stood close to PRI, and is often called Mexico’s most powerful woman.

Law on teacher evaluations is adopted

The President signs a law on reforms in the education system, with a view to addressing corruption that includes, among other things, harassment and bribery when teacher services are added. According to the law, compulsory teacher evaluations are to be introduced, but teachers’ unions fear dismissals.

Many disappeared during Calderón

The government states that 26,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since December 2006, when the army was deployed in the fight against drug cartels. This is a much higher figure than previously stated. Amnesty International comes later this spring with criticism of the government for not doing enough to investigate the 26,000 cases. More and more critics believe that the war on drug trafficking led to a sharp escalation of the violence.

Assaults on Spaniards threaten the tourism industry

A brutal assault on a group of Spaniards near Acapulco arouses great dismay even in violent Mexico. Armed men occupy the house the Spanish have hired and bind a number of people before raping six women. The attack is seen as a serious blow to the tourism industry in the country.


Support for victims of violence

President Peña Nieto signs a law to support the victims of drug-related violence. A national register must be established to try to clarify what has happened to thousands of missing persons. A fund must also be set up so that victims and their relatives can seek compensation for murders, kidnappings and other crimes.

Mexico Best Colleges and Universities