There are hundreds of thousands of students who cross borders to attend schools in both the U.S. and Mexico during their elementary, middle and high school years, but poor communication between the two nations often results in significant obstacles for their academic advancement, researchers said at a binational symposium in Mexico this week.
Many Mexican-American children who had good grades in the U.S. may be held back once they arrive in a Mexican school, and the same is true for students from Mexico who enroll in a U.S. school, said Victor Zúñiga, a sociology professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, at “The Students We Share/ Los estudiantes que compartimos” conference.
They speak Spanish when they come to Mexico, “but don’t read it or write it,” Zúñiga said at a news conference.
While American schools are required to provide services for English-language learners, Mexico does not offer such transitional programs for students who are not proficient in Spanish.
And besides language skills, these students are also behind in subjects like history, geography and civics in their new country, Zúñiga pointed out.
The two-day symposium, which attracted researchers, educators, policymakers and journalists from both Mexico and the U.S., is hosted by the University of California-Mexico Initiative at the university’s campus in Mexico City, in partnership with El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and the University of California’s Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego campuses.
According to a news release from the conference, “Organizers contend that not enough attention has been focused on the impact of incoherent immigration policies and almost totally uncoordinated education policies that impact large numbers of students whose lives and education are divided by a border that separates not only families but different phases of young people’s education.”
Researchers estimate that more than 400,000 school-aged children who are born in the U.S. are currently trying to enroll in Mexican schools. In the U.S., another 700,000 Mexican-born children, or U.S. citizens of Mexican parents face a similar situation.
While both countries have laws that require them to educate all children living within their boundaries, these laws are not always followed or enforced, Mónica Jacobo Suárez, a professor with the education department at Centro de Investigación y Docencia, said in an interview.
Suárez said in many cases, students with U.S. citizenship are not permitted to enroll in Mexican schools if they do not have an Apostille, or official recognition, on their birth certificates or official school transcripts. A law ending these requirements, Normas de Control Escolar en la Educación Básica, was enacted last year, but many schools – some unaware of the change – still ask students to present these documents and turn them away if they cannot produce them. (The Mexican government has promised training on the law for schools throughout the country, she said.)
The Los Angeles Times published a story last year about a Mexican family who, upon returning to Mexico from Iowa, were forced to send their children’s birth certificates and school transcripts back to the U.S. for authentication and government-approved translation into Spanish — a process that took a year.
There are approximately 422,000 students like this who are living transnational lives and not receiving an education, said Suárez.
These children often fall under the radar and are “invisible,” Zúñiga said. When he and his research team were in Mexican schools for a recent study on international migration, he said they encountered many teachers who did not know they had students who had lived in the U.S. and were native English speakers.
In addition to repeating grades, these students often miss school years, begin to have lower education aspirations and experience humiliation at school, Zúñiga said.
When asked how students can make it in schools, despite these challenges, Suarez said, sadly, it’s “swim or sink.”