Mexico's new textbooks filled with errors

Children returning to school Monday will receive new books with more than 100 grammatical and geographical errors

Primary school students study in their classroom in Acapulco, Mexico, Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
Marco Ugarte/AP

Millions of schoolchildren in Mexico will be handed textbooks rife with mistakes when they return to classrooms on Monday.

The new books contain many of the basic mistakes children are taught to avoid in class: words incorrectly spelled with a "c" instead of an "s," too many commas, not enough accent marks and at least one city located in the wrong state.

The foul-up is becoming a national embarrassment in the midst of a planned government overhaul of Mexico's much-criticized school system. Teachers are being provided with a list of 117 errors the Education Department acknowledges it found so they can be manually corrected. The mistakes were discovered only as 235 million elementary school textbooks were being printed.

"It's unfortunate these things happen with the children's textbooks," Consuelo Mendoza, president of the national parent-teacher association, told The Associated Press. "We are talking about the education of millions of children."

Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet called the errors "unforgivable" and put the blame on Mexico's previous administration. He said it came down to either stopping the printing of the flawed books and correcting them or making sure the 26 million schoolchildren in Mexico have books on the first day of class. He went with the latter.

Earlier this month, Chuayffet pledged to find out who was responsible. He also gave the Mexican Academy of Language the task of reviewing textbooks so future editions won't have such errors.

"How are we going to nurture minds with grammatical mistakes?" he asked when he signed an agreement with the academy.

Despite Chuayffet’s criticism, the Education Department has not made a list of the errors available to the public or to members of the language academy.

The news blog Animal Politico did an independent review and found that words are misspelled in the Spanish textbook and accent marks are absent or misplaced. A geography text wrongly puts the Caribbean resort city of Tulum in the state of Yucatan instead of Quintana Roo, according to the blog.

The scandal broke during the summer, and the rhetoric heated up this month as teachers have taken to the streets to protest a sweeping education overhaul that will see them evaluated and will loosen their union's control over hiring and firing.

President Enrique Pena Nieto last week issued a package of rules for implementing the education law, which was enacted in February. Angry teachers responded by blocking several major streets in the capital and causing a rush-hour traffic jam. The union has threatened more protests if legislators pass laws that mandate firing teachers who fail or don't take evaluation exams.

Political observers say the textbook scandal is just the latest sign of the weakness of Mexico's education system.

Only 47 percent of the country's children graduate from the equivalent of high school. Mexico spends a larger portion of its budget on education than any other member of the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development but scores the lowest on standardized tests.

Experts say many teachers are unqualified and under the old rules have been able to buy and sell their positions, which are relatively well-paying for Mexico's rural areas. Meanwhile, teachers point to a host of problems they say they cannot control — class sizes of up to 40 students, a curriculum that is focused on repetition and memorization rather than active learning, a lack of state funds for maintenance and now bad textbooks.

Since the late 1950s, Mexico's National Commission of Free Textbooks has printed millions of books that are mandatory for both private and public schools.

Freelance editors who make less than $250 a month missed the errors in the new texts, commission head Joaquin Diez-Canedo told the AP.

"The telephone rings. You have to go to the bathroom. You get distracted. You miss a word," he told the newspaper Milenio.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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