At a glance: Mexico

Preventing violence and lowering dropout rate in Mexico City schools

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Young children in a Mexico City classroom place paper letters side by side to create words. This is part of a UNICEF-sponsored project called Education for Peace.

By Malcolm Linton

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 9 January, 2005 – In a classroom in Mexico’s capital groups of children slide together scraps of paper marked with letters. The aim is to spell out words – but the class is less about spelling than human values. One of the words is ‘violence’, and the teacher reminds the children it can often happen in their own homes.

Because of classes like this one at the Escuela Martires de la  Libertad (Martyrs of Liberty School), 7-year-old Diana-Karin has already begun to think about ways to defuse violence in families.

"If the father gets drunk you should stop him from going out to drink more," she says. "That way he'll stop drinking and then he won't hit you."

The lesson is part of a project sponsored by UNICEF called ‘Education for Peace’. It is designed to cut down the number of children who drop out of school because of violence they experience both at home and at school, from teachers and other pupils.

"Here in Mexico City, specifically, violence has been identified as one of the main reasons why children are not attending school, and why there is a high level of desertion, especially at the secondary school level," explains Annalisa Brusati, UNICEF’s Mexico City coordinator for the project.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
A teacher leading a classroom full of young children in Mexico City, where education has been disrupted due to violence, both in the home and at school.

Before the age of 15 more than one of every 25 of the city's children has dropped out of school. The total is more than 64,000.

"We know that a lot of children drop out of school because of poverty... because they have to work," says UNICEF Mexico child protection officer Theresa Kilbane. "But a significant number drop out because of abusive teachers and abusive parents."

Along the passage from the children's class, the Education for Peace project has brought together a group of parents. Only six came to the first meeting last June, but today there are 22. They are talking about ways to recognize violence in their own lives and to avoid directing it towards their children.

"I believe we're really motivating the parents. They change," says teacher Silvia Sepulveda Arteaga, who has led the discussions. "In fact, when I took the course, I found I became less violent with my own children."

Just nine schools were participating when the project began in 2001, but it has proved so popular that now there are more than 1500. Another sign of its success, says Brusati, is that the Mexican government is planning to take over the project in 2006.

"In a very short time we have grown enormously," reflects Malu Valenzuela of the women's education organization Grupo de Educacion Popular de Mujeres (Educational Group for Women), which created Education for Peace and runs it on a daily basis. "People have responded positively in our surveys, both parents and teachers."

Kilbane says she hopes that in the future the project will spread to the countryside and cities nationwide, where levels of violence and school absenteeism are likely to be even higher than in the capital.


 

 

Video

9 January 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Malcolm Linton reports on how a UNICEF-supported project called Education for Peace is helping children return to and stay in school in Mexico City.

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