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People, Education

National Autonomous University of Mexico, University of Guadalajara, rapid population growth, Oaxaca, Colegio

Throughout most of Mexico’s history, beginning with the colonial period, education was the task of the Catholic Church. After independence, Mexicans were concerned about the church imposing its values and beliefs on the population and started a public educational system. Religious influences of any sort were banned in primary school (grades 1 through 6). The federal government controls the curriculum and provides the textbooks for primary schools.

In the 1917 constitution, public education became mandatory through grade six. School attendance is high among 6 to 14 year olds, and 85 percent of all boys and girls are in class at that age. Attendance declines significantly after age 13, somewhat more so for girls. In the late 1990s, nearly 43 percent of the population 15 years old or older had received some secondary or college education. Nineteen percent had completed primary school, and the remainder did not complete the sixth grade.

Mexico has improved its literacy rate through public education programs, but rapid population growth has made it more difficult to reduce the absolute number of Mexicans who cannot read or write. In 1970, for example, 26 percent of all Mexicans age 15 or older were illiterate. By 1995 only 10 percent of that age group was illiterate. This was still a group of about six million people, or about as many people as were illiterate 20 years earlier. There are no significant differences in literacy rates based on gender. However, literacy rates are lowest in those states that have the highest poverty levels and, typically, high percentages of Native Americans. The lowest rates are in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, which all had literacy rates less than half the national average in 1997. The most urbanized centers boast the highest literacy rates; the Federal District, for example, had a literacy rate of more than 95 percent in 1997.

Mexican higher education is also dominated by public institutions, many of them in the capital city. In 1992 public universities accounted for about 82 percent of all college graduates. Approximately 1.3 percent of Mexicans were attending college or graduate school in 1992 and about nine percent (over age 16) had graduated from college. Mexico’s leading institutions include the National Autonomous University of Mexico (founded in 1551), the National Polytechnic Institute (1937), the Colegio de Mexico (1939), the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (1946), and the Ibero-American University (1943), all located in Mexico City. Other important universities include: the University of Guadalajara (1792); the Benemerita Autonomous University of Puebla (1937); Veracruz University (1944), located in the city of Jalapa Enriquez; and the Institute of Technical and Advanced Studies of Monterrey (1943), which is known by its Spanish acronym ITESM. Both the Ibero-American University and ITESM have established numerous branch campuses throughout the republic.

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