Educational Opportunities for Children with Disabilities in Mexico

By Reich-Erdmann, Georgina | Bilingual Review, January-August 1999 | Go to article overview
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Educational Opportunities for Children with Disabilities in Mexico

Reich-Erdmann, Georgina, Bilingual Review


Education is a dynamic field in both the United States and in Mexico. One of the issues that have come up within this field is the merging of special education and regular education in order to provide an "inclusive education for all." This trend, which is currently taking place in both countries, began in the United States with Public Law 94142 (Choate 1993). The law, known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, was enacted in 1975.

In Mexico, regular education and special education were, for several decades, two clearly separated entities. On 15 June 1993 a new general education law, which is in many ways similar in content and meaning to PL 94-142, came into effect. This law deals, among other things, with two important issues; the decentralization of education and educational integration.

It appears, then, that in Mexico the recognition of diverse characteristics and educational needs of children, as well as the merging of special education with regular education in search of an inclusive education, have started only recently. These changes are raising challenging issues that need close attention and prompt action. One of these issues relates to educational outcomes and their relation to expectations, which in turn have a close connection to identification, diagnostic procedures, and intervention strategies.

Mexico and Changes in Education

In regard to the decentralizing process, it should be pointed out that for many years Mexican education was organized, regulated, directed, and supervised by a central educational agency located in Mexico City. Educational norms and procedures, as well as educational planning, programming, and selection of content, were the responsibility of this governmental entity.

The objectives and educational decisions made by this central organ were uniform for all children and were to be equally applied throughout the entire nation. The principle behind this policy was to provide equal educational opportunities for all Mexican children. Identical teaching principles and identical materials were used regardless of location, population characteristics, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and values, and regional particularities. To ensure uniformity, a single set of free textbooks for elementary education was published by the board of education and distributed to every child nationwide (Villa 1988).

Private schools were able to add some specific goals and objectives, such as teaching a second language, but only after complying with the principles, objectives, and mandates imposed by the board of education. These schools were frequently inspected to ensure compliance with all regulations.

This kind of management and control of the public as well as private educational sectors did not allow for any individual accommodations; therefore, children who differed from the majority in any way were not offered opportunities in general education settings. This included children from native ethnic groups whose native languages were other than Spanish.

Currently, with the educational decentralization that is part of the new law, educational authorities of each Mexican state have theoretically been given the power to decide and implement educational plans, programs, and contents according to particular and regional characteristics and needs, and to assess their outcomes independently. As a result, these local authorities are beginning to incorporate diverse elements that are relevant to the population of each specific location and to recognize that educational diversity should be acknowledged and addressed appropriately. Likewise, private schools are finding that educational authorities are more flexible in accepting programs that implement minor or major differences in educational objectives and ways to approach them.

Educational integration has also brought about a radical change in the way children with special educational needs are treated within the general educational system.

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