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Mexican Education Minister Alonso Lujambio (left) made a whirlwind tour of Tijuana this week, announcing support for Tijuana's public schools, including for the building of two badly needed high schools, kicking off a new reading program and meeting with National Action Party members who might support his possible bid for the presidency next year.
Lujambio, 48, who has a Ph.D. in political science from Yale, read to a class of students Thursday at a sports complex and school, El Centro de Alto Rendimiento, located on the campus of the Autonomous University of Baja California. Asked what he had read, he replied, in English, that it was a book about "Superheroes. Mexican superheroes!" The reading of Jaime Alfonso Sandoval's "Confidencias de un Superhéroe" (Confidences of a Superhero) was part of a new program, "Leer Para Aprender, Diviértete Leyendo" (Read to Learn, Have Fun Reading) in which the government hopes to stimulate reading. The program calls for schools to have rolling readers for half an hour once a week. "Leer Para Aprender" kicked off in most Baja California schools at 10 a.m. on Thursday, but Lujambio's reading took place in the afternoon, after he and Gov. Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán gave speeches and handed out scholarships. Part of the reason for the program is for students to see their ENLACE national test scores go up, but part is also is to get students to read and improve their lives. (ENLACE=Evaluación Nacional de Logro Académico en Centros Escolares.) In Rosarito, federal deputy Oscar Arce and his wife, Clara Oviedo, read to a class at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, El Mexicano reported.
The government is also encouraging parents, tutors or relatives to read with students at least 20 minutes a day at home, and sent letters to parents asking them to do so.
"We are not reading in Mexico," Lujambio said, citing statistics that Mexicans read only 2.9 books a year on average. Other studies have put the number closer to one book a year.
"The habit of reading does not come from the school. It comes from the home," Lujambio said. National Reading Ability Standards
Lujambio said he would support Tijuana in its efforts to build two new high schools and said Tijuana's educational system would be receiving 100 million pesos ($8.4 million) from the federal government. Tijuana, he said, is practically the only major Mexican city with a municipal educational system rather than one funded by the state or federal government. Mayor Carlos Bustamante of the Institutional Revolutionary Party said during his campaign last year that building the high schools would be one of his priorities. Lujambio said, "We are going to build those two new high schools to generate more educational opportunities in Tijuana." A major problem with the educational system is that space in Tijuana's public high schools is limited, and many students wind up being shut out. Then their options are to pay for private school (and private schools are of uneven quality) or to work.
Lujambio praised Baja California on the progress it has made in education.
He said it is a national leader in terms of forming school advisory groups, with 98% of Baja California schools having formed them. He said that in 1993, federal education regulations required every school in the nation to set up the advisory groups in order to get parents more involved in the education of their children. But he said that two years ago, only 8,000 of the nation's 196,000 public schools had them. Lujambio said President Felipe Calderón has made a strong push for the groups, and that more than 160,000 nationwide now have them.
He also said Baja California primary school students have moved from 13th place to third in reading skills.
The state education ministry said that when Lujambio spoke at Tijuana's El Trompo interactive museum Thursday afternoon, he said the Calderón administration has seen the construction of 811 bachillerato high schools, 13 of them in Baja California, and 90 institutions of higher learning. Lujambio helped inaugurate the museum's Expo Joven, or Youth Expo.
El Sol de Tijuana reported that Lujambio said at the museum that he would consider running for president next year. He met with National Action Party members Wednesday night.
A large crowd was on hand at El Centro de Alto Rendimiento's multipurpose facility. Below, six of the student athletes Lujambio and Osuna Millán read to in Room 11.
Update, Sept. 25, 2012: Alonso Lujambio dies of cancer.