MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador signed an initiative Wednesday that would cancel the controversial education reforms of his predecessor and announced plans to vastly expand free university education.
Cancellation of the reform was one of Lopez Obrador's most oft-repeated campaign promises and a gift to teachers' unions, some of which felt forced into accepting the reforms while others never dropped their vocal opposition.
"Promise kept, teachers," Lopez Obrador said.
The reforms would be replaced by a system that establishes above all else the right to an education. Lopez Obrador pledged a free, public, quality education through the university level for anyone who wants to study.
To accomplish that, he said the government would build 100 new public universities and provide 300,000 university scholarships to underprivileged students.
The education reforms passed under President Enrique Pena Nieto were written into the constitution, so Wednesday's initiative goes to the Congress and then state legislatures. Lopez Obrador's coalition controls both chambers of the Congress.
Proponents of the reforms had lauded them as an important step toward improving accountability and quality within Mexico's underperforming public schools. They urged Lopez Obrador to give them time to be fully implemented and bear fruit.
But the demand for tests and evaluations of educators angered teachers, and critics said the reforms didn't address the historic regional inequality in schools.
"It was without a doubt very unfair that the teachers were blamed as the only ones responsible for the problems of public education," said Education Secretary Esteban Moctezuma Barragan. The result was 150,000 teachers retiring or taking early retirement over the past three years, and falling enrollment at the country's teachers' colleges, he said.
Moctezuma promised new emphasis on the continuing education of teachers with the creation of an institute dedicated to their training. He also said the National Institute of Education Evaluation, which had been tasked with evaluating the public education system, would be scrapped.
"The teachers are never going to be disrespected again," Lopez Obrador said.