Mexico Invests in New Models and Distance Learning to Reach Better Education Outcomes

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Quick Take: With more than 10 types of higher education institutions, Mexico offers great options for all kinds of students.

Despite sharing similar economic and social issues as other Latin American countries, such as a large number of out of school children, Mexico has developed a strong higher education system, with quality institutions and varied approaches to learning. Currently, the challenge is to get more students enrolled in the various universities and technological institutes in the country.

Illustration mexican map, gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean
Illustration map Mexico City, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean


LANGUAGE Spanish (92.7%), Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional languages (7.3%) POPULATION 124,574 million (est.) BIGGEST INDUSTRIES Tobacco, chemicals, oil, food and beverages, iron and steel, mining, textiles, and tourism1,2,3

CURRENCY Peso Mexicano GENDER 50.26% female, 49.74% male

Graphic Top 5 Education Indicators

Top 5 Education Indicators

Mexico is Working to Build a Strong Education System

Somewhere among the urban landscapes built in cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and the UNESCO World Heritage sites, Mexico is busy building another type of development: An education system that offers more than 4 million students – of which approximately 9,000 are international students – the opportunity to not attain only a degree, but also the knowledge to keep the country moving forward. The truth, however, is that more Mexicans should be getting enrolled in higher education – from technical schools, all the way up to graduate school.

One move toward this goal has been the education reform process that Mexico has been undergoing in the past few years. After over six decades working under the same education system, the government recognized it was time for an education overhaul and has presented the country with a new educational model for Mexican primary and secondary students.21

The proposed changes include putting into practice a pedagogical model that develops students’ critical thinking skills and encourages them to research, analyze, synthesize and present information in a more structured way. New training approaches for teachers, the development of new textbooks, providing a better Internet connection at schools, and improving equity and inclusion in marginalized communities, and English as a second language from primary to higher education is part of the proposal.

According to the government report titled Modelo Educativo para la Educación Obligatoria – Educar para la Libertad y la Creatividad (Educational Model for Compulsory Education – Educate for Freedom and Creativity), released in 2017 by Mexico’s Public Education Secretary, this reform has been developed since 2012, with the goal of improving the quality and equity of education in Mexico, in order to prepare the population for the challenges of a globalized 21st century.

This re-structuring began in the first half of 2014, through the work of 18 regional consultation forums, six of them for basic education, and another six for secondary education. Additionally, three national meetings were held to share the results of the forums. In total, more than 28,000 individuals participated, and about 15,000 documents were received with proposals.22  

What is the Current Education System Structure?

Mexico is one of Latin America’s countries with the highest investment in education and research, contributing US$ 34.7 billion and US$ 6.3 billion respectively, into schools and universities in recent years.

Nonetheless, the country displays social and economic contrasts that evidence how poorly these recourses have been distributed: More than 51.1% of children and teenagers in Mexico live in poverty and have no access to health or education. This means 19.6 million underage Mexicans currently live in these conditions, according to a Unicef report. The report also shows that although 96.2% of children between the ages of six and 14 are enrolled in school, over 4 million of them do not actually attend class, and 600,000 are at-risk of desertion.

In their report, Unicef recognizes that Mexico has solid education institutions and advanced laws regarding children’s rights, but it is necessary to continue working to ensure all of Mexico’s children’s rights are being respected.23

Primary and Secondary School Systems24, 25

Basic Education in Mexico 3,412,123 students Education is free and mandatory for all Mexicans and consists of three levels.
Preschool EducationAges 3 to 5. The goal is to boost their creativity and motor skills.
Primary EducationAges 6 to 12. Mainly focused on literacy, basic math and cultural
Secondary EducationAges 12 to 15. Students are trained to expand their knowledge in varying subjects and to pursue higher education.
Middle Superior Education in Mexico 642,383 students From 15 to 18 years of age. There are three different study streams.
General BaccalaureatePrepares students to continue with higher education. Based on general education with scientific, technical and humanities.
Technological Baccalaureate Technical training that allows its graduates to dive into the labor market or study a technical career.
Technical Professional Offers technical training in different specialties to prepare students to occupy various positions in the professional world.
Higher Education in Mexico 433,580 students Public institutions (58.7 percent are government subsidized, but tuition payment is often demanded as well.
Bachelor’s DegreeFour years of training in a particular subject.
Master’s DegreeTwo-year degrees focused on specializations.
DoctorateResearch project that usually lasts three years.

Mexico Offers Various Higher Education Opportunities, But Few Get Access to Them 

Mexico’s higher education sector is made up of a wide range of institutions. In the nine Universidades Públicas Federales (Public Federal Universities), these institutions are responsible for teaching, doing research and extension programs and projects, and culture dissemination.

The 34 Universidades Públicas Estatales (Public State Universities) and the 23 Universidades Públicas Estatales con Apoyo Solidario (Public State Universities with Solidary Support) are higher education institutions that develop teaching, innovative application of knowledge, as well as extension programs. Institutos Tecnológicos (Technological Institutes) are divided into three categories: Centros de Investigación (Research Centers), Institutos Tecnológicos Federales (Federal Technological Institutes) and Institutos Tecnológicos Descentralizados (Decentralized Technological Institutes).

There are 266 institutions of this kind in Mexico, distributed among the country’s 31 states and Federal District. Universidades Tecnológicas (Technological Universities) offer students intensive training that allows them to enter the job market in a short time period or to continue their studies at the undergraduate or specialized level through technical engineering. Currently, there are 114 Technological Universities in 31 Mexican states.

Universidades Politécnicas (Polytechnic Universities) offer engineering degrees, undergraduate and postgraduate studies (Specialty, Master and Doctorate). Students who do not complete their undergraduate studies can receive a professional degree that qualifies them to enter the job market. Programs are designed based on the Competency-Based Educational Model and are focused in applied research to technological development. At the same time, they have a close collaboration with organizations from the productive, public and social sectors, with the aim of training world-class professionals, currently operating at 62 Polytechnic Universities in 28 states.

The Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (National Pedagogical University) aims to train undergraduate and graduate education professionals to meet the needs of the National Education System and the labor market, in general. It also offers specializations, conducts research in education, while also promoting science and the various artistic and cultural expressions of the country. It has 76 units and 208 academic sub-offices throughout the country.

Universidades Interculturales (Intercultural Universities]) promote the development of professionals committed to the country’s economic, social and cultural development, particularly of the indigenous population, as well as offering open spaces to promote the revitalization, development and consolidation of native languages ​​and cultures. These 13 institutions provide training programs at the levels of associate, bachelor, specialization, master’s and doctoral degrees.

The Centros Públicos de Investigación (Public Research Centers]) are made up of National Council for Science and Technology (also known as CONACYT), Research Centers of the National Polytechnic Institute, as well as the Research Centers of Tamaulipas, Jalisco and Chihuahua States, and also those of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México [National Autonomous University of Mexico]. Their main objectives are to promote science and technology in society.

Escuelas Normales Públicas (Regular Public Schools) are responsible for the training of preschool, primary and secondary education teachers. Escuelas de Educación Normal Superior (Regular Superior Education Schools) offer degree programs in pre-school, primary, bilingual intercultural primary and secondary education, special education, initial education, physical and artistic education, among others.26

Despite the amount of choices available for students in terms of attaining a higher education degree in Mexico, the country’s greatest challenge is to actually give them opportunities to access those institutions. According to the Education at a Glance 2017 report, Mexico remains in the last place among the OECD member countries when it comes to tertiary education attainment of 25 to 34-year-olds. Only 22% of Mexicans access higher education, while the OECD average is 37%.27,28

A 2014 report by the World Bank detailed the education landscape in Mexico, stating that the low investment into research, the inadequate and incomplete information when making decisions about education policy, as well as a lack of knowledge about the labor market (that makes it difficult for young people to have relevant information about the required skills in the job market) are important issues that should be addressed. Improving this situation stands as one of the biggest education challenges for Mexico’s upcoming new president.29

Mexico’s Open and Distance University
Mexico also offers the Universidad Abierta y a Distancia de México (UnADM), an open distance education university with the purpose of providing remote education through information and communication technologies. Currently, the country has 57,812 students enrolled in higher education distance courses.

5 Highlights of Mexico’s Culture, Economy and Education

1. Mexico spends more in education than any other Latin American country in the OECD: US$ 8,949 per student/year.30 2. Mexico has three Nobel Prize Laureates. The 1982 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Alfonso García Robles, the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Octavio Paz, and the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry winner José Mario Molina.31 3. Mexico has 34 sites as part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, the most out of any Latin American country. The list includes Mexico City’s and Xochimilco’s Historic Center, the Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza, and the Revillagigedo Archipelago, among others.32

4. Popular dishes and beverages like tequila, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, totopos and guacamole, among others, all come from Mexico. The country has 59 varieties of indigenous corn.33The cereal is also the main ingredient for one of Mexico’s most traditional staples, the tortilla. 5. Mexico has been the host country of two FIFA World Cups, in 1970 and 1986. A third competition will take place in the country in 2026, in a joint effort along with the United States and Canada.34


TRiiBU Studio


1Mexico Demographics Profile 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved from 2Working in Mexico. (n.d.). Retrieved from 3Mexico – Population, female (% of total). (n.d.). Retrieved from 4Education at a Glance 2016 | OECD READ edition. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 5 A. (2017, February 24). Academic salary in 29 countries. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 6 A. (2017, February 24). Academic salary in 29 countries. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 7 Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anísio Teixeira. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 8 (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 9 Education in Colombia [PNG]. (n.d.). World Education Services. 10 (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 11 Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anísio Teixeira. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from 12 Education in Colombia [PNG]. (n.d.). World Education Services. 13 Mexico bolsters science funding. (n.d.). Retrieved from 14 Evaluación del gasto educativo en México[PDF]. (2016). Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública. 15 Carneiro, J. (2017, July 11). Cortes na ciência geram êxodo de cérebros, congelam pesquisas e vão punir Brasil por décadas, diz presidente da academia – BBC Brasil. Retrieved from 16 Hessel, R. (2017, April 01). Educação perde R$ 4,3 bilhões com corte no Orçamento. Retrieved from,585320/educacao-perde-r-4-3-bilhoes-com-corte-no-orcamento.shtml. 17 WadeSep, L. (2017, December 08). Researchers thought peace in Colombia would mean more science funding. They were wrong. Retrieved from

18 Colombia raises budget 2.5 pct for 2016 to $74 billion. (2015, October 14). Retrieved from TRADING ECONOMICS | 20 million INDICATORS FROM 196 COUNTRIES. (n.d.). Retrieved from Vargas, T. M. (2018, January 23). 2017, mal año para el mercado laboral en México. Retrieved from García, J., & Núñez, J. (2017, March 16). México pone fin a un sistema educativo de casi 60 años. Retrieved from Modelo Educativo para la Educación Obligatoria[PDF]. (2017). Secretaria de Educacón Pública. 23 E. (2018, May 09). El 51.1% de niños y adolescentes en México viven en pobreza y no tienen educación ni salud: Unicef. Retrieved from U. (n.d.). Estudiar en México. Retrieved from ESTADÍSTICA DEL SISTEMA EDUCATIVO MÉXICO CICLO ESCOLAR 2016-2017[PDF]. (2017). Secretaría de Educación Pública. 26 Instituciones de Educación Superior. (n.d.). Retrieved from Education at a Glance 2017. (n.d.). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 28 OCDE: México, último en acceso a universidad. (2017, September 12). Retrieved from N. (n.d.). Educación superior: ¿Cuáles son los desafíos de México para los próximos diez años? Retrieved from Mexico – OECD Data. (n.d.). Retrieved from (2017, November 11). The Three Mexican Nobel Prize Winners. Retrieved from UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (n.d.). World Heritage List. Retrieved from Hwang, E. (2017, January 06). Collecting Corn: Why do Latin American Countries have more varieties of corn than the United States? Retrieved June 05, 2018, from U.S.-Mexico-Canada joint bid submits application to host 2026 World Cup. (2018, March 16). Retrieved from

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