GUERRERO, MEXICO — David Teliz Martínez exits his office and carries an enormous black speaker toward his motorcycle. He secures it on the back with a rope. Then he hops on and rides to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Chilpancingo de los Bravo, a city where 14.5% of the population experiences educational lag. Determined to find new students, he walks along the dirt roads, speaker in one hand, microphone in the other: “We are from INEA. We’ve come to this neighborhood to invite people over the age of 15 who haven’t completed elementary or middle school to enroll and finish their education.” The INEA is the National Institute for Adult Education.
Teliz, originally from the town of Amojileca in the municipality of Chilpancingo de los Bravo, is a graduate of the College of Philosophy and Letters at the Autonomous University of Guerrero. As a child, he sold gelatin desserts, chewing gum and newspapers; shined shoes; and made deliveries to earn money. He set aside his university career when he married and found a job as a carpenter. But the salary was not enough to cover household expenses, and he applied for a job at the INEA. At the age of 26, he began his career with a position as an educational technician.
Now 56, Teliz is a permanent employee with 30 years under his belt as an INEA program teacher. Since 1981, the institute has served people over the age of 15 who didn’t have the opportunity to learn to read or write and want to complete their elementary or middle school education.
At first, Teliz worked for 11 years visiting communities in the municipalities of Mártir de Cuilapan and Leonardo Bravo. He would walk a couple of hours to reach these communities so he could promote education one household at a time. He also stayed in the towns for several days to be in the company of rural residents, earn their trust and speak about the importance of education.
After over a decade of working in rural communities, he was assigned to Chilpancingo de los Bravo. Then, in 1998 — he already had his permanent position by this point — Teliz and some of his colleagues were transferred to the Instituto Estatal para la Educación de Jóvenes y Adultos de Guerrero, an institute that provides basic education services for young people and adults in the state of Guerrero.
He now coordinates activities at three of Chilpancingo de los Bravo’s community centers where educational services are provided to young people and adults who have not completed their educations. Although it is not among his responsibilities, Teliz promotes the institute’s programs and services and disseminates information about them.
The institute has a goal to enroll 200 students per year. And meeting that goal is no easy task, Teliz says. To do so, he must seek out creative strategies. In his case, Teliz chips away at the quota by volunteering his own time, speaker in hand, traveling door to door. But this is by no means his only method: He reached an agreement with the Autonomous University of Guerrero’s radio station to come in every Tuesday morning and speak during its news show. He also hands out flyers donated by local businesses, which he contacts himself to request their support. “If you are 15 or older … enroll, study and obtain your certificate, which is officially approved by the SEP,” the flyers read, with “SEP” referring to the Ministry of Public Education. In exchange for putting up the printing costs, the businesses’ names are featured on the flyers. Teliz then takes to the streets to hand them out.
Avigaí Silva, GPJ Mexico
The teacher says that, as a result of his resourceful initiatives and job performance, he has been chosen as “one of the state’s 30 best employees” at least 12 times. He has now been visiting Chilpancingo de los Bravo’s peripheral communities by motorcycle and on foot with his speaker for three years. The idea was a product not of creativity but necessity. The official vehicle he used to drive to promote education in the communities broke down.
He says he had already implemented this strategy in the municipality of Leonardo Bravo. In some communities, residents still receive information via loudspeakers. By 1997, Teliz was paying 15 Mexican pesos (equivalent today to roughly 63 pesos, or 4 United States dollars) out of his own pocket for three announcements to be transmitted by a loudspeaker that could be heard throughout most of the town. But in the long term, it was an excessive investment, so he arranged the acquisition of a small speaker with the mayor’s office and used it to talk up education himself out on the streets. It was new and different. He noticed that people came out of their houses to see him and declared the strategy a success.
Teliz took the idea to Chilpancingo de los Bravo in 2021, but he was missing the speaker. He decided to invite his friends and acquaintances to the end-of-course celebrations, and in exchange, he asked for items that would be of use to the students. He secured computers, a refrigerator and the speaker this way.
Avigaí Silva, GPJ Mexico
The teacher works Monday to Saturday, and sometimes on Sundays, too. He goes out almost every day with his speaker in tow. “Have you finished middle school? Would you like to continue your education? Do you know someone who has not completed their education? Go for it and study!” he invites his listeners. “You can continue your education without leaving your job. It’s completely free,” he announces enthusiastically.
Teliz proclaims himself to be an “educator of the people” and believes that education is the best legacy anyone can receive. To that end, he devotes his time and energy to nurturing that right. “We have to be doing promotion because people don’t go [to enroll] on their own. We need to be motivating them,” he says.
According to the Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social, a national council that evaluates social development policy, 19.4% of Mexico’s population experienced educational lag in 2022. For Guerrero’s population the same year, educational lag reached 28.8%. And in Chilpancingo de los Bravo, it affected 14.5% of people, according to data from 2020, the most recent available for the city.
Avigaí Silva, GPJ Mexico
Teliz has recruited approximately 5,600 students since 1993, but he is persistent in his effort to bring in more than his goal each year. He currently has 408 students enrolled, and at least 120 of them are over the age of 40. The younger students, he says, are more likely to abandon their studies.
“Out of 20 who come in, six finish. Many of them leave. That’s the difficult part, because we are working with students the formal system already turned away. The younger people have problems with behavior, learning, separated parents, drug addiction. So, they drop out,” he says. The teacher uses every tool at his disposal to keep his students in the system, visiting them at their homes and calling them on the phone to encourage them. “We have to follow up with them. We ask them, ‘What happened? You said you wanted to study.’ And if they tell us they don’t want to continue, we ask them, ‘Why?’”
Manuel Rojas Castro is one of his students. He is 73 and enrolled in the middle school course. He says that when he was young, he did not have the opportunity to attend school. Upon learning about the institute, he did not let the invitation to go back to class pass him by. “My hope is to finish high school. It comes from a dream. As a child, I wanted to be a doctor, but my father didn’t want to support me,” Rojas Castro says. “They’ve told me we’re too old to go to school. They say we elderly people are stealing oxygen, but the young are wasting the oxygen that I need. As long as I’m still breathing, I’ll keep studying.”
Avigaí Silva, GPJ Mexico
Roberto Núñez Gómez is another student. At the age of 78, he is taking the high school course. “I heard teacher David Teliz Martínez on the radio. He said the middle school [course] was completely free, and I got excited because I had only finished elementary school,” he recalls. “I liked the school a lot because I’ve complemented the knowledge they give me here with my experience. My goal is to finish high school and study for a degree in psychology, at least.”
The institute only offers an education at the elementary and middle school levels. However, for six years now, by his own initiative and as an act of love for education, Teliz has been advising students who wish to continue on to their high school studies. “We added high school so they would have the option to continue studying” because it is a level that INEA does not offer. “I teach them, so they pass their subjects, and they sit the exam at the Ministry of Public Education offices,” Teliz says.
In addition to recruiting and advising students, Teliz has started a personal project to establish the Center for Education, Art and Culture, with the goal of expanding education for the people. He still has two more years before he retires. This year, he will begin a master’s degree program in philosophy and literature. He says he will still devote time to finding new students.