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Mexico Schooled Over More Than 100 Mistakes In New Textbooks


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. Mexico is working to overhaul its school system, but the new textbooks the schools received have a problem - mistakes, lots of them. More than 100 mistakes found in millions of textbooks. The errors range from the grammatical to the geographical. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports this is just the latest problem for Mexico's troubled education system.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In a Mexico City neighborhood not far from downtown, middle school is just about to start. A teacher is hurrying in the latecomers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: Parent Sergio Zuniga's son slides in right before the front gate closes. Zuniga says he can't believe the textbooks this year had so many mistakes.

SERGIO ZUNIGA: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: It's bad, he says; the level of teaching is already bad and then on top of that, all these errors. It's terrible. More than 200 million government-issued free textbooks went out to Mexico's 26 million students this year. At last count, they had 117 errors, everything from spelling mistakes to bad punctuation to even misidentifying where a famous Mexican archeological site is located.

Mexico's education minister, Emilio Chuayffet, apologized earlier this month for the errors, which he blamed on the previous administration. The books were already at the printers when the discovery was made and any corrections, he said, would have delayed distribution by months.

EMILIO CHUAYFFET: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: It's an unforgivable error, Chuayffet told a group of academics, but he said a greater error would have been to have said nothing. The education department said it would be handing out a pamphlet with corrections.

Isela Cruz Martinez, who dropped off her two children at the middle school this morning, had a long list of grievances for education officials.She said the textbook errors are just latest problem.

ISELA CRUZ MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: She says Mexican students need to be taught more critical thinking skills instead of memorizing facts out of books. She added that most government-issued textbooks are filled with misinterpretations and lies anyway. The textbook scandal comes just as Mexico's new president has begun overhauling the education system. Among the new reforms, teachers will have to submit to evaluations as well as hiring and firing standards.

The new rules have put the president at odds with the powerful teachers' union and its longtime boss who was jailed earlier this year on embezzlement charges. Education expert Lucrecia Santibanez, with the Rand Institute, says the government, and especially local districts, have not had much influence over teachers or the education system.

LUCRECIA SANTIBANEZ: Teachers own it and loopholes in the law actually allowed them to sell those positions, to inherit them to their children. And so in many instances, the state and definitely schools, parents, you know, have very little say in who becomes a teacher.

KAHN: Mexico spends nearly 20 percent of its annual budget on education, but Santibanez says unfortunately 90 percent of that money goes to pay teachers and administrators, leaving little for anything else. That's wrong, says parent Enrique Garcia, whose son just started his first year of middle school this week.

ENRIQUE GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish)

KAHN: He said if humanity really invested in education the way it should, the country's problems would be solved within a generation. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on