“What I’m about to tell you is hard: education in Mexico is very bad.”
So begins a damning new documentary about the Mexican school system, called “De Panzazo,” or “barely passing.” It’s Mexico’s answer to “Waiting for Superman,” a 2010 documentary about the failures of the U.S. public school system.
Journalist Duncan Tucker, writing about the film on his blog about Mexico, notes that:
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Family Database, the average Mexican spends just 8.6 years in school, well below the world average of 11.9 years. Of every 100 students entering primary school in Mexico, only 64 complete it. And of these, just 46 will go on to complete a secondary education.
Numbers like those are one reason why the documentary, released at the end of February, is dominating headlines in Mexico. Mexico spends as a percentage of GDP above average amounts on education compared to many developed nations. But “De Panzazo” exposes classrooms with broken windows, a teacher talking on his cell phone during class, and a couple of girls in school uniform saying they’ve fallen behind by a year and haven’t learned what they’re supposed to. While leaders of the teacher’s union say the film is an attack on public education, “De Panzazo” criticizes private schools for poor achievement, too.
See the trailer (in Spanish):
“De Panzazo” blames corruption within the government and the teacher’s union for many problems. At one point, journalist Carlos Loret de Mola interviews union head Elba Esther Gordillo, the most powerful woman in Mexican politics, and says he wants her to make a good-faith effort to improve the country’s schools. Gordillo says she wants that too. “Well, do it!” Loret de Mola responds, with more than a hint of exasperation.
The film opened Feb. 24 in 18 Mexican cities. Not surprisingly, it has few fans among the union leadership. But it seems to have become a box-office hit, grossing $870,000 its first weekend, more than several Oscar contenders. On a sales per-screen basis it outperformed any other movie in Mexico.
The filmmakers invited Gordillo to come see the movie. Tucker, for one, thinks it “unlikely that she’ll accept.”