Instituto Educación Secundaria: Transforming Spain’s Institutos

Instituto Educación Secundaria in Mexico has undergone major reforms and changes over the past century. Formal secondary education was first established in the late 19th century under President Porfirio Díaz. At that time, secondary schools were limited and served mainly urban elites. With the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century came an ideological shift toward promoting education for the masses, not just the wealthy. 

The structure of secondary education today consists of lower secondary education (educación secundaria) from grades 7-9 and upper secondary education (educación media superior) from grades 10-12. Lower secondary school is compulsory and upper secondary school is optional. There are several types of secondary schools in Mexico:

  • General secondary schools (secondaries generales) – the most common, run by state governments
  • Technical secondary schools (secondaries técnicas) – focus on vocational skills 
  • Telesecundarias – schools in rural areas that use televised instruction
  • Private secondary schools 

Key statistics:

  • Enrollment in lower secondary schools is around 5.2 million students nationwide. 
  • The lower secondary graduation rate is around 91%. 
  • Around 3.3 million students enroll in upper Instituto Educación Secundaria.
  • Only about half of upper secondary students go on to graduate.

So while enrollment rates are relatively high in lower secondary school, graduation rates, especially in upper secondary schools, indicate there is still room for improvement in the education system.

Curriculum and Subjects

Secondary education in Mexico is divided into two cycles – Cycle 1 from grades 7-9 and Cycle 2 from grades 10-12. The curriculum includes both required core subjects as well as electives.

Required Subjects

All students take core classes in Spanish, mathematics, natural sciences, history, geography, civics and ethics, physical education, and artistic education. Secondary schools generally offer some choice in foreign language courses – most commonly English, French, or German. 

Students on the general education track take more advanced math and science courses to prepare for higher education, while technical schools focus on practical vocational skills and trades. Telesecundaria curriculum is adapted for distance learning but teaches the same core subjects.


In addition to core requirements, students can choose elective courses in areas like technology, economics, health, ecology, sports, arts, and humanities. Offerings vary by school and region. Many schools integrate cultural or social themes into the curriculum through electives.

Recent Reforms

In 2006, Mexico implemented a major reform shifting secondary education from a grade-based system to a competency-based model focused on developing skills. There is now more emphasis on technology, applied learning, and interdisciplinary studies. Civics and ethics became core subjects.

In 2017, further reforms mandated standards for improving teaching quality, parental involvement, and inclusion of indigenous languages and cultures. The reforms aim to provide more relevant education tailored to diverse student needs across Mexico.

Teachers and Teaching Methods

Secondary school teachers in Mexico are required to have a bachelor’s degree and complete a teacher training program in order to be certified. The training programs focus on pedagogical methods, classroom management, and subject-specific teaching skills. 

Teachers typically specialize in one or two subject areas such as math, science, language, or humanities. Their teaching styles can vary greatly depending on the school philosophy and resources. Many schools still rely heavily on traditional lecture-based direct instruction, while progressive schools are adopting more student-centered approaches.

Ongoing professional development for teachers is encouraged but not mandatory. Some schools provide regular in-service training to help teachers expand their skills. There are also independent teacher training centers that offer seminars and workshops. However, due to limited budgets, many teachers do not get access to continual training opportunities.

The major teachers union, SNTE, has pushed for reforms to improve teacher training and ongoing development. They advocate for more rigorous university-level teacher preparation, mentorship programs for new teachers, and incentives for teachers to pursue advanced certifications. However, progress has been slow due to disagreements on implementation.

Overall, Mexico is working to improve the quality of teaching and adopt more progressive, internationally benchmarked best practices. But there are still challenges in ensuring all teachers have access to high-quality training. Ongoing professional development continues to be an area for growth.

Standardized Testing

Standardized testing is a major component of Mexico’s Instituto Educación Secundaria system. The primary standardized test is the National Assessment of Academic Achievement in Schools (ENLACE). This exam is administered to students in primary and secondary schools to assess their mastery of curriculum standards.

The ENLACE was introduced in 2006 and aims to improve education quality by providing feedback on learning outcomes. The exam tests Spanish, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences. The results allow schools to identify areas for improvement and enable policymakers to target resources. However, the test has faced criticism for pressuring teachers to teach to the test. There are also concerns about how heavily the results influence school funding and teacher salaries.

In addition to the ENLACE, Mexican students may take college admissions exams like the EXANI-I and EXANI-II. The former is for high school students planning to enter university and the latter is the general admissions exam. These tests evaluate skills in math, verbal reasoning, and more. International exams like the PISA and TIMMS are also used to benchmark Mexico against global standards. 

The prevalence of high-stakes standardized testing has been controversial. There are debates around whether the tests accurately measure student learning and teacher performance. Some claim the focus on testing comes at the expense of a well-rounded education. Despite criticisms, standardized exams look set to remain a core feature as Mexico strives to improve the quality of education.

Extracurricular Activities 

Extracurricular activities are an important part of the secondary school experience in Mexico. They provide opportunities for students to pursue interests and develop skills outside of academics.


Both public and private schools typically offer sports like soccer, basketball, volleyball, and baseball. Football is particularly popular, and many schools have teams that compete against other local schools. Some schools also offer swimming, tennis, martial arts, and other sports. Private schools tend to have more resources for extensive athletic programs and facilities.


Art, music, theater, and dance programs allow students to explore their creative talents. Music education often involves joining the school band, orchestra, or choir. Private schools are more likely to have specialized arts facilities and instructors. However, many public schools also incorporate the arts into their curriculum and extracurricular options.


Academic clubs allow students to delve deeper into subjects like science, math, technology, language, and more. Leadership clubs teach public speaking, organization, event planning and other skills. Hobby clubs bring together students who share common interests. Community service clubs organize volunteer projects and fundraising drives. Both public and private schools offer a variety of clubs.

Community Service and Special Programs 

Many schools have community service requirements or programs that get students involved with projects to help others. Some schools also have exchange programs for students to spend a semester or year at a school abroad. Private schools are more likely to offer international exchanges as well as special programs like summer academies or leadership conferences. However, public schools also provide community service opportunities.

In summary, extracurricular activities provide valuable learning experiences outside the classroom in both public and private secondary schools. While private schools often have more resources, public schools also recognize the benefits of sports, arts, clubs, and service programs. These activities help students explore interests, build skills, make friends, and give back.

School Facilities and Resources

There are noticeable differences in facilities and resources between typical public and private secondary schools in Mexico. 

Public schools often suffer from infrastructure and funding challenges that limit their ability to provide adequate facilities. Many public schools have outdated buildings and lack sufficient classroom space, which leads to overcrowding. Access to technology is also limited, with most public schools only having a couple of computer labs for the entire student population. Libraries tend to have small collections and outdated books. Science labs are similarly underequipped, with a shortage of lab materials and supplies. Basic amenities like clean drinking water, functioning bathrooms, electricity, and internet connectivity cannot be taken for granted in some rural public schools.

In contrast, private schools generally have modern campuses and smaller class sizes. They invest heavily in facilities and learning resources, including well-stocked libraries, multiple computer labs, and science labs outfitted with the latest equipment. Private schools also integrate technology into the classroom, with interactive whiteboards, laptop carts, and educational software. Some even provide students with personal laptops or tablets. The infrastructure at private schools is designed to support a variety of extracurricular activities, with facilities like theaters, sports fields, swimming pools, and dining halls.  

While private schools offer a clear advantage in facilities and resources, public schools often struggle with crumbling infrastructure, outdated technology, and supply shortages – challenges that impact the quality of education for students from less affluent families. Addressing these disparities remains an important issue. Initiatives to modernize facilities, provide 1-to-1 technology programs, and stock libraries and labs at public schools could help level the playing field. But adequate funding and political will are needed to undertake such reforms.

Costs and Funding

The costs associated with secondary education in Mexico vary significantly depending on whether a student attends a public or private school. Public schools are funded by the government and do not charge tuition fees. However, families are still responsible for expenses like books, uniforms, and transportation. 

Private schools charge tuition and these fees can range from modest to quite expensive. The most elite private schools can cost over 100,000 pesos (around $5,000 USD) per year. Middle-class families often struggle to pay private school tuition but do so because they believe these schools offer a better education.

The Mexican government allocates a certain percentage of GDP towards education each year. In 2020, Mexico spent 5.2% of GDP on education. However, many experts argue this funding is inadequate, especially for improving public schools. Teacher salaries are also quite low, which can impact education quality. 

Financial aid and scholarships are available, but limited. The National Scholarship Program (PRONABES) offers need-based aid to low-income students. Some private schools also provide scholarships or discounted tuition based on academic merit or financial need. Overall, access to financial aid is not as extensive compared to other OECD countries.

More funding and access to quality education regardless of family income is an ongoing issue in Mexico. The costs associated with secondary school continue to be a barrier for many students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Challenges and Reforms

Mexico’s secondary schools face considerable challenges, including high dropout rates and low test scores compared to other OECD nations. This has prompted calls for reforms and improvements.

The dropout rate in lower secondary education (secundaria) is over 5%, which rises to nearly 15% in upper secondary (preparatoria). This prevents many students from completing their education. There are also concerns about the quality of education, as Mexican students consistently score below average on international assessments like PISA. 

In response, there have been efforts to expand English and technology instruction. English is seen as crucial for participation in the global economy. Meanwhile, integrating technology like computers and tablets into the classroom could make lessons more engaging and interactive. 

The Mexican government has introduced various reforms and initiatives, with mixed results so far. In 2013, curriculum reforms aimed to foster critical thinking and analysis skills. More recently, the “New School Model” launched in 2018 focused on human values, inclusion, and versatility. 

Further reforms have been proposed to improve teacher training, make the school day longer, increase funding, introduce more standardized testing, and give schools more autonomy. However, teachers’ unions have pushed back against some changes, arguing they are poorly conceived and could negatively impact both educators and students.

Ongoing efforts to reduce dropout rates, raise test scores, and provide a higher quality education continue across Mexico’s secondary schools. Time will tell whether the latest reforms can create meaningful improvements for the next generation of students.

Parental Involvement 

In Mexico, parental involvement in Instituto Educación Secundaria varies greatly depending on socioeconomic status and location. However, most parents play an active role in supporting their children’s education.

The role of parents includes ensuring students complete homework assignments, attend school regularly, and follow rules. Many parents also communicate frequently with teachers to monitor academic progress. Some parents provide additional academic support through tutoring or reviewing course material with students at home. 

Parent-teacher associations (PTAs) are common at many Mexican secondary schools. These groups organize events, volunteer activities, and fundraising efforts to benefit schools. PTAs provide a way for parents to connect with one another and collaborate to improve school conditions. Active PTAs demonstrate strong parental engagement.

Volunteering is another way parents contribute to schools. They may assist in classrooms, chaperone school trips, help with administrative tasks, or support extracurricular activities. Schools in lower-income areas especially rely on parent volunteers to compensate for limited staffing and resources. Parents also donate basic school supplies, learning materials, and snacks or meals for students in need.

Overall, Mexican parents value education and make an effort to positively impact their children’s schooling within their means. Many parents view secondary education as the pathway to a better future for their children. They provide encouragement and support to motivate students to study hard and envision higher education goals.

Preparing Students for Higher Education 

In Mexico, the transition from secondary to high school education is a crucial period for students. Schools provide various forms of support to prepare students for further studies and future careers.

Transition from Secondary to High School

The last year of Secundaria (middle school) marks an important transition point. Students must pass an exam at the end of 9th grade to receive their secondary school certificate. This qualifies them to apply to preparatoria (high school). 

Students typically take admissions exams for entrance into preparatory schools, which are academically oriented 3-year programs. Guidance counselors assist students in considering their options and applying to appropriate schools. This transition process is a time of both excitement and anxiety for many students.

Career Counseling and Guidance 

Throughout Secundaria, schools provide career counseling to help students consider potential career paths. Interest surveys, aptitude tests, and informational sessions expose students to various options. 

In the final year, guidance counselors work closely with students on goal-setting and selecting an academic focus area for preparation based on career aspirations. This guidance aims to match students’ skills and interests with appropriate further education and career paths.

College Entrance Exams Preparation

Preparatoria culminates in students taking college entrance exams like the EXANI-II. Schools offer preparatory courses, practice tests, and tutoring to help students prepare for these high-stakes exams that determine college admissions.

Securing a spot in a good university hinges on excelling on college entrance tests. So preparatoria provides students with the support they need to master the material and test-taking strategies for success. This exam preparation is a key part of readying students for higher education.

Leave a Comment