Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Illiteracy in San Miguel

This week there was an article in the local English newspaper about illiteracy in San Miguel. The article said that illiteracy in San Miguel was three times the national rate of 6 percent. An illiteracy rate of 17.4 percent in San Miguel de Allende! And the educational level for the whole municipality is fifth grade while the state average is sixth grade.

The article also discussed "willful illiteracy" which is people who know how to read but don't read very often. It said that many sanmiguelenses University students in Mexico fail a national-level exam because of the general cultural questions that include politics, social and cultural issues. People generally acquire knowledge of these issues by reading. In a study of one group of students they found that they read an average of one book a year. In addition they think that copying information from a book is the equivalent of doing research. I was shocked......and yet when I thought about these statistics, I wasn't shocked.

Many of the San Miguel schools are out in the countryside. They are small with combined grades. I've been told that the students get four books a year from the school district or whatever the educational governing body is. I would assume that these four books have to be for reading, math, geography, spelling, etc. And I can tell you that paper and pencil are precious commodities in the campos. They are in short supply. In one school I saw the additional books that they have for the children to read. There were maybe a total of 50 books.

The parents may or may not know how to read and even if they want their children to learn to read, there is no money above the necessities of life to buy books for their children. After the sixth grade, the cost for the children to continue to go to school is about $300 USA per child. Plus for many there is the cost of transportation....and when in the campos, they may walk a couple of miles before they can board transportation. There is another cost too....the labor cost. After the fifth or sixth grade the children usually start working with their parents. So if they continue to go to school, the family has lost the labor of the child. This may sound terrible but life is hard in the campos and trying to provide the basic necessities is the reality.

I don't know as much about the schools in town, but generally here in our neighborhood we see a lot of the children stop going to school at about the seventh or eighth grade. However, here in town students who are not doing well can go to the municipal library for help with Spanish and mathematics. But this is voluntary so I'm sure in most cases it will take a dedicated parent to make this happen. The cost for high school level classes is more so sometimes it is necessary for the child to stop school because of the cost.

I've seen first hand how difficult this makes it for businesses and government to move ahead. When we were trying to give a policeman information following a crime, he had a stub of a pencil and a "scrap" of paper. He had trouble even printing the street name. It was laborious, like a first grader trying to print. I do not think this man was mentally deficient. Instead I do not think he had the encouragement or the opportunity to read and write while in school. Just think about the children you know in the USA. Think of all the books that they have around them and how they have goals for the number of books that they have to read. My grandchildren have to write in their journals everyday besides writing assignments in various subjects. Reading builds reading skills, writing builds writing skills.

Not too long ago the University of Leon announced that they were going to open courses in San Miguel about historical restoration and hotel and hospitality management. I was glad to hear that since San Miguel is a historic town and there is a huge tourist industry here. The last I heard, the University of Leon was saying that they might have to cancel the schedule due to lack of interest. I don't know if it was lack of interest or lack of reading the announcements in the newspaper or because of the fact that so many children have not completed enough schooling to even go to college.

In my opinion, I think that improvement of the educational system including the education of the children in the campos is one of the major problems that the goverment faces. If Mexico has a better educated population, they will be able to generate industry and businesses with more jobs and higher paying jobs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Disheartening to say the least. I propse that 6% was low too. Someone sent me that article you refrenced. I really believe the 6% was a generous down play of the real numbers but I can't be sure. Never been to SMA, so when I heard the 17% illiteracy rate was in SMA, that did surprise me because I imagined it a progressive area. Now that I read your blog, that explained things a bit. Yup....sad.