The Mexican manufacturing powerhouses of Saltillo, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Hermosillo and Mexico City owe their success to a Mexican education system that provides strong math and science basesin the early years, and then tailors its curricula to the specific needs of Mexico's manufacturing industry.
The system has produced a largely self-sufficient workforce that, while earning perhaps one-fourth to one-fifth of comparable U.S. wages, now has quality and productivity standards meeting European and American standards. Indeed, the Mexican workforce training in certain manufacturing niches has been so thorough that workers, such as welders, have actually been able to fill positons for skilled labor in other countries.
To understand the role that both public and private workforce training play in fueling Mexico's economic engine, an education primer is in order.
The education system in Mexico is centralized, unlike the U.S. system where local school boards determine offerings. There is little influence for local input, regional history or even local holidays. The Secretary of Public Education (SEP), in conjunction with the teachers union, National Union of Workers in Education, or SNTE, determines virtually everything that is to be taught.
A single federal calendar is applied nationwide. The same textbooks are used nationally. Teachers are certified by a handful of universities and, though wages are notoriously low, they are virtually guaranteed jobs for life.
The system starts with pre-escolar, or pre-school, for children aged 3, 4 and 5. Attendance at this level is not mandatory. Following is primaria, which is obligatory for ages 6 to 14, and covers through what, in the US, would be 7th grade. Secundaria, for students 12 to 16, lasts three years and is designed to prepare students for further study (estudios superiores) or to enter the workforce. In addition to regular (General) Secundaria, secundaria by television is available in rural areas where there are teacher shortages; and technical (Técnica) secundaria is available for those headed into trades