The federal government has confirmed the termination of a program that extended school hours for students at more than 25,000 schools and thus gave their parents – especially mothers – more time to work to support their families.
Public Education Minister Delfina Gómez said Tuesday that the Full-Time Schools Program (PETC) was coming to an end, explaining that the government wants to prioritize education sector resources for the the improvement of basic school infrastructure such as classrooms and washrooms.
“[The need for infrastructure projects] is sometimes not seen … in the capital … but if we go to the most remote communities of Puebla, Sonora, Yucatán, Chiapas, Oaxaca, the entire republic, we realize how many needs there are in terms of infrastructure,” she said.
Created during the 2006-12 government led by former president Felipe Calderón, the program has already concluded at some schools. From approximately 6,700 schools at its commencement, the PETC grew to include 25,134 basic education schools (pre-schools, primary schools and middle schools), benefiting some 3.6 million children.
Students enrolled in the program attend school for six to eight hours per day, instead of the typical 4 1/2 hours, and are served meals.
Testing showed that students benefited academically from spending more time at school, and the national social development agency, Coneval, concluded in 2018 that the PETC was one of the country’s most important education programs.
Despite that, funding for the schools where the program operates was cut by 50% to 5.1 billion pesos (US $245.6 million) in 2020 from almost 10.2 billion pesos the year before.
The decision to terminate the PETC attracted significant criticism, and the program was defended by its original proponent.
“When creating #FullTimeSchools we sought to improve the education of children, provide comprehensive nutrition to them and allow the incorporation of more women into the labor market,” Calderón tweeted Tuesday.
“Mom could work full time while her child learned, ate better and was safe,” he added in a post that included a tweet from a person who asserted that President López Obrador decided to do away with the PETC partially because it was created during the government led by Calderón, an arch adversary of the president.
Mexicanos Primero, an education-focused nongovernmental organization, is preparing a legal challenge against the government’s decision that it intends to take to the Supreme Court.
Fernando Alcázar Ibarra, the organization’s legal director, noted there was a previous court ruling against the elimination of the PETC, but the Ministry of Education successfully challenged it.
Education expert Juan Alfonso Mejía said he wasn’t surprised by the education minister’s announcement given the cut to the PETC budget, but indicated that he was disappointed by the government’s decision.
“The objective of this program was to generate greater opportunities for children in vulnerable situations,” he said.
“The Full-Time Schools Program is probably the only contemporary era Mexican education program that was recognized on several occasions by UNICEF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank,” Mejía said.
He also said that four of 10 children enrolled in the PETC didn’t eat any meals other than those they were served at school.
One person already affected by the termination of the program at the México state school her son attends is Alma Delia, a single mother since the death of her husband.
“It’s always the most screwed who are screwed over more,” she told the newspaper El Universal, referring to the decision to scrap the PECT.
Delia’s son previously attended his Naucalpan primary school from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., which allowed her to work most of the day as a domestic worker and shoe vendor. However, she now has to pick her son up at 12:30 p.m., and as a result her income has declined by 2,000 pesos (US $96) a month.
“This is an area where a lot of poor people live; they brought their children [to this school] precisely because they gave them breakfast and lunch during the whole school year without asking us for a peso for the food,” Delia said.
She noted that she has had to cover all household expenses on her own since her husband’s passing, explaining that her rent alone is 3,000 pesos (US $145) per month. She said that she was previously able to clean three homes a day, earning 250 pesos from each job.
But now she only has enough time to clean one house before she rushes back to the school to pick up Óscar Gustavo, who’s in second grade. “They do things without thinking about those of us who are screwed,” Delia said.
With reports from El Universal