Mexico budgets more money for education each year than Brazil, Spain or Switzerland, yet many of its schools are decrepit, have no running water, textbooks, or adequate teachers. Where is the money going?
According to an electronic billboard in the country’s capital referred to as the “abuse meter”, which keeps a running tally of education money misspent, almost $2.8 billion is going directly into the hands of 298,174 teachers and administrators who collect a paycheck without putting in the work.
“It’s the robbery of the century, and it’s every year,” said Claudio X. González Guajardo, president of Mexicanos Primero, an educational advocacy organization responsible for the abuse meter. “The corruption is massive.”
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 93.3% of Mexico’s education budget goes to staff members while basic school needs remain unmet.
Almost 33% of schools in the country have no drinking water and 11% operate without electricity.
And with the abuse meter billboard, a corresponding website and the #abusometro hashtag gaining momentum on Twitter, Mexican citizens are showing they are not going to stand for it much longer.
“Citizens have learned that democracy offers many ways for them to voice their views, even in forceful and assertive ways,” said Rubén Gallo, a professor of Latin American culture at Princeton University. “This, combined with a Latin code of honor, means that shaming a corrupt politician through inventions like the abusómetro is a perfect combination of the new — democratic awareness — and the traditional — a code of honor, in which an enemy can be publicly humiliated.”
Although there has not been an official response from the government yet, Mr. Gonzalez has been made aware they are paying attention. Some experts believe progress to rectify the situation is moving so slowly because they do not want to make things worse. Decades of relying on nepotism and passing jobs within families — even collecting paychecks of dead relatives — could cut people off and create an even more dire situation.
“Once you start exposing things that are problematic, the more vulnerable the institution becomes,” Dr. Luis Urrieta Jr. of the University of Texas said. “They’re probably just being very cautious with how much is being revealed and how they are going to deal with these cases.”
Meanwhile, President Enrique Peña Niet travelled to California to publicly thank the state for welcoming all Mexican immigrants – even illegal ones – calling it a “recognition of human dignity” as California introduced new policies that would offer immigrants financial aid for schooling and allow them to attain drivers licenses.
People like Gonzalez, however, want to see a change within Mexico. He believes the money spent on extra staff could be building 24 new schools each day, raising salaries of quality staff members, or equipping classrooms with computers.
“They know — they know they have a massive problem,” Mr. González said. “They just need the political will to change it.”