The technological gap in Mexico’s rural schools

Escuela rural mexicana

The technological gap is real for Mexican rural schools.

In Mexico, rural schools represent almost half of all schools, but there is still much to be done to give them access to technology.

There is a general view that rural education in Mexico represents a non-significant number of schools away from urbanization, but when reviewing the data carefully it can be seen that its importance is much greater than usually thought.

A rural community is made up of less than 2,500 inhabitants according to INEGI and in Mexico more than seven million children and young people attend school in a rural community. This number of students constitutes one third of basic education students in the country. 54.8% of preschoolers, 57.6% of primary school students, 56.9% of secondary school students and 41.1% of high school students are located in a rural community (INEE, 2017, p. 72).

However, it is well known that for many of these students and especially those in more distant communities, education must seek different ways of operating. Such is the case of multi-grade schools, where one teacher teaches a group of students from different levels.

Multi-grade schools in Mexico represent 28.7% of preschools, 43.2% of elementary schools and 20.6% in the telesecundaria scheme (INEE, 2017, p. 30). 

Rural education in Mexico is large and significant enough to allow millions of children to fall behind academically. Still, thousands of rural schools work in inadequate educational infrastructure and even worse, with a lack of qualified teaching personnel.

The learning strategies of the 21st century have technology at their core, however, schools in more remote and rural communities and in more complex conditions are still far from being able to implement it.

The need for basic connectivity

According to the report Guidelines for Improving Multi-grade Education (2019) of the Rural Education Research Network, “multi-grade schools concentrate precarious infrastructure and basic connectivity services and equipment and have fewer spaces for academic support”.

This includes access to the Internet where 43.1% of national schools have an Internet connection, but only 23.3% of them have access for the entire school community (teachers, principals and students). Of this, only 5.7% is available in indigenous multigrade schools and 10.7% in general multigrade schools. 

The data are worse if we consider that 57% of schools in Mexico, 90% of which are rural schools, do not have any Internet connection, either under a multigrade, multilevel or community scheme.

The need for staff to feel comfortable with technology

In rural schools with more robust infrastructure, qualified personnel are needed to use, teach and maintain technology. 

This does not mean that teachers who want to use technology in rural classrooms must necessarily be computer technicians, it means that they must be sufficiently familiar with it to consider it as part of their teaching materials.

After all, studies show that teachers’ comfort level with technology influences how often and how they use it in their daily lessons (Jahnke & Kumar, 2014; Al-Bataineh et al, 2008). 

Also, the confidence that teachers have towards using new technologies and above all, their perception of the usefulness of them, are essential factors for its use as an academic tool (Holden & Rada, 2011).

The need for teachers who can manage and rely on technology solutions increases considering that in rural schools academic staff turnover is high and replacement is often delayed. In a general school the time for replacing a teacher is one week, while in rural general and multigrade schools, it can be as much as two or three weeks. Even more so if the previous teacher was qualified in the use of technology.

The need for appropriate academic programmes

In Mexico, even though they represent half of the schools in the country, rural schools do not, to date, have academic programs that specifically consider their reality.

In other words, urban reality and the type of urban school are understood as the standard for all educational activity. There is no known need for specific programs for rural schools no matter what their characteristics are, whether they are in remote communities, are community-managed, multi-grade or multilevel, or have high or low enrollment.

This ignorance of rural realities lags behind any use of new educational tools (including technology) in rural schools. Because without taking into account their particular abilities, curricula made for urban schools are ineffective in rural schools.

The solution in technology itself

The technological and educational gap is still wide in country’s schools, but it is technology itself that is doing its part to close it. 

For example, while it is true that schools need staff familiar with technology to teach them, projects such as Professor Sugata Mitra’s ‘School in the Cloud‘ demonstrated that children have the ability to automatically become familiar with technology and use it for academic purposes. That is, taking into account that the material they work with is designed specifically for such purposes.

It is not a question of replacing teaching, but of transforming and moulding it according to the environment. 

Both the environment influences the educational life of rural communities and the type of technology they use must influence it. This is the case for mobile learning powered by mobile devices and applications with educational resources that do not require the Internet to function. 

But even if children have the intrinsic ability to learn with technology, how are schools in remote and rural communities expected to be able to access mobile devices for education? The question is valid and consistent, however, the advantage with this type of device is that due to their physical characteristics they do not need a complex infrastructure to operate and therefore the investment is lower. 

Government institutions, private actors and civil associations work to bring technology to the most remote parts of the country and even to communities in need in other countries. The investment is relatively small considering that the academic benefits can be very high. 

Technology can be just one of the needs that thousands of rural schools in Mexico and the children who study there also have a right and need to try out technological education and learn with it. That is the necessity that should be everyone’s priority.

 

Sources and references:

Rocha, C. M. (2016, October 16). ¿Existe la educación rural? Retrieved October 6, 2019, from Nexos website: https://educacion.nexos.com.mx/?p=378

Kalonde, G. (2017). Technology Use in Rural Schools: A Study of a Rural High School Trying to Use iPads in the Classroom. The Rural Educator, 38(3), 27–38. https://doi.org/10.35608/ruraled.v38i3.218

INEE (2019). Directrices para mejorar la educación multigrado. Mexico: autor.

INEE (2018). Panorama Educativo de México 2017. Indicadores del Sistema Educativo Nacional. Educación básica y media superior. Mexico: autor.