Home-Schooling Isn’t Regulated in Mexico. I Chose It Anyway.

Educating children at home is rarely accepted in Mexico, but Global Press Journal reporter Aline Suárez del Real's family has committed to daily experiential learning.

Personal Essay

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Home-Schooling Isn’t Regulated in Mexico. I Chose It Anyway.

Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico

Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real and his grandmother, Beatriz Islas, make necklaces and bracelets at their home in Tecámac, Mexico.

TECÁMAC, MEXICO — Fifteen years ago, before I became a mother, I first heard about someone who did not send her child to school and instead educated him herself at home. It seemed extreme. How could anyone deny their child the development that school provides and the companionship of other students? I wrote it off as absurd and thought nothing more of it.

Today, my 7-year-old son does not attend school. Since August of last year, he has received his education at home, a practice known as home-schooling.

There is a widespread idea that most families who home-school do so for religious reasons. But that is not my case, nor is it the case for a large swath of families I am acquainted with in Mexico.

When the time came for my son, Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real, who at the time was 3 years old, to begin preschool, my husband and I faced the dilemma of deciding which school to choose. We searched for one with green areas and expansive spaces ideal for free play. We found one 75 kilometers (47 miles) from our house and decided to move to pursue what we thought was the best educational option.

It was a Waldorf school, which employs a pedagogy that does not fall within the parameters established by Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education (SEP). It opened our family up to a new educational landscape. We learned about other types of schools and other forms of organization and learning. And we became acquainted with families that practiced home-schooling and pursued alternative pedagogies.

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Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico

Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real draws in his notebook at his home in Tecámac, Mexico.

Getting to know them, seeing how their children developed and observing their lifestyles made me want to learn more about home-schooling. I discovered that, in Mexico, this form of teaching is not prohibited, but nor is it regulated, meaning that the number of families practicing it in the country is unknown.

In 2016, the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit organization in the United States — where home-schooling is legal and widespread — estimated that 5,000 families in Mexico home-schooled.

Here, one of the few organizations focused on understanding the phenomenon of home-schooling and supporting the families that practice it is ABP Sustenta, founded by Martha Rebolledo, who herself educates her 14-year-old son at home. In 2018, the organization conducted a survey in an effort to analyze the situation in Mexico.

Only 620 families answered the call, of which 360 said they had chosen this alternative to give their children a tailored education. Meanwhile, 125 said they had taken their children out of school due to situations involving bullying, almost on par with families who home-school for religious reasons. Another 75 said they do it because their children have special needs that are not addressed in their schools, and 68 because they do not have enough money to pay for private school and do not want their children to attend public school. Survey participants were able to choose more than one reason.

Dania Urias, originally from Chile, home-schooled in her country, where this form of teaching is permitted with regulations for validating learning that has taken place outside the formal education system. When she moved to Mexico, she discovered that it’s not a common practice here. She wondered if she was doing something illegal. “I met with the surprise that it was much more difficult to get your child’s certification here and that people attach more of a stigma to home-schooling,” says Urias, who educates both of her children at home.

Ema Paredes started to home-school her 11-year-old daughter three years ago, when the girl went through a bullying situation at school. “Although I offered to switch her to another school, she didn’t want to,” says Paredes. “I decided not to take her anymore. And after several months went by, it hit me that my daughter went back to being the way she was before what she went through at school. So, I didn’t want her to go back anymore.”

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Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico

Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real visits the Luis Enrique Erro Planetarium in Mexico City.

Rebolledo suspects that the practice has been growing in Mexico since the coronavirus pandemic, which highlights the need to regulate it. “Some didn’t want to continue paying for private school, others didn’t like the online classes and others simply could not participate in the online classes,” she says. “So, they discovered they could obtain a certification through the National Institute for Adult Education, and they preferred to keep doing it that way, even when in-person classes had returned.”

Mexico’s National Institute for Adult Education, better known as INEA, was created to provide alternatives to people who, due to various circumstances, were not able to complete their studies. Through exams, short classes and counseling sessions, adults, adolescents and children aged 10 or older can obtain their certificate for primary and secondary school in a shorter period of time. Through INEA, families in Mexico could successfully validate their home-schooled children’s education.

Education in real life

In June 2022, due to financial reasons, my partner and I had to move back to our old house. The schools in our area did not offer the type of education Cosme was receiving. This was in addition to anxiety he had developed after being bullied at school by a group of older students. We had been unable to handle the situation in such a way that he could overcome it. Cosme was refusing to go to school.

By that time, we already knew home-schooling was a viable possibility, and we decided to employ it temporarily until, with the help of a therapist, we could confirm that Cosme had sufficiently mastered the skills necessary for a proper transition. We also considered a local alternative school, which was scheduled to open soon.

Concern over the social aspect caused most of my anxiety. Although my son is sociable and easily approaches people to chat, conflict resolution, learning to share and cultivating tolerance are difficult skills to develop in an atmosphere outside of school.

We came up with the idea to meet my son’s socialization needs by joining a group of home-schooling families that held educational and recreational activities and free play. After we were unable to find such a group in our area, I created one. Through social media and flyers we distributed in the streets, we found eight families.

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Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico

Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real learns math and fractions through daily activities, such as buying fruits and vegetables at the supermarket and helping in the kitchen.

Educating a child at home is a challenge when a job is thrown into the mix. For the most part, it is the mothers in home-schooling families who take on the responsibility of educating the children, according to the ABP Sustenta survey. Fifty-seven percent of the families surveyed reported that the father was responsible for the entire household income. Nearly 22% of them reported that both parents had jobs, and in only 6% of cases were mothers both breadwinner and home-school teacher.

In my case, we both work, and combining that work with educating Cosme would be impossible without a robust support network. He accompanies me in my journalism work when it is both possible and safe. When I work at home, I sometimes organize academic activities for him, but most of the time, his learning has occurred through real-life experiences.

Daily life has become my best tool for teaching Cosme mathematics. The things I used to do on autopilot now have me counting, adding, subtracting, dividing. Going to the greengrocer to purchase fruits and vegetables is an activity he enjoys, and I put that learning opportunity to good use. I ask him to bring five apples to the shopping cart; to gather 1 kilogram of lemons; to help me figure out how much the items cost and add them together; to count the money, give it to the cashier and calculate how much change they owe us.

Another great educational opportunity is preparing food. Cosme has learned how different types of matter transform when combined or when force, heat and cold are applied — from making soup to witnessing how a hard grain like rice softens, or how flour goes from powder to dough.

Cosme wants to learn how the things we buy are made. He spent a long period of time recreating the frozen desserts he so enjoys, making them from scratch at home. He deduced how he needed to grind up the hard ice from the freezer and add flavoring. Each time he tries a recipe, I have him record it.

Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico

At home, Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real plays games with his family. In the photo on the right, he prepares, aided by his father, Cristian Peña Uribe, a presentation for his Boy Scouts group about techniques and exercises he has learned at his swim classes.

Caring for household plants has taught him about their various parts and life cycles. He has found enjoyment in germinating seeds and growing plants. But we did not expect this activity to also help him understand the seasons of the year and the lunar phases, which then gave him his start in understanding the movements of rotation and revolution.

Every item we see around the house or out on the street transforms into an opportunity to talk a little about the history of Mexico or science. We had never noticed how rich our surroundings are with elements of pre-Hispanic culture! But Cosme always asks, “What’s that figurine? What does it mean?” And that leads us to run home to conduct thorough research that will enable us to explain it to him. We almost always rely on books, but we also use YouTube videos. For now, he is interested in pre-Hispanic history and outer space, and he draws, writes and tells stories on those subjects.

The challenge of certification

Getting approval for home-schooling education has become more difficult as pandemic-related restrictions end, some families tell me. Educational institutions have zeroed in on ensuring that the population between the ages of 6 and 15 returns to the classroom in order to bring truancy rates down from the levels observed during quarantines. The INEA offices have grown stricter about accepting children who apply for certification.

INEA declined to be interviewed for this article. Marisela Calderón, head of the institute’s media and information department, told me they did not have authorization to speak about the issue because “there is no official with knowledge of home-schooling in Mexico due to that modality not being operated for SEP or INEA.”

However, an INEA official who is not authorized to speak with the press and wishes to remain anonymous, says the institute has knowledge that families who home-school come to the institute for certification, and there is a possibility that some justify absence from school with excuses such as illness. It is up to each INEA center to accept or deny the reasons presented to them, the official says.

Another option is enrollment in an umbrella school, which provides the content and evaluations to accredit the student’s education. This way, families can prove they are being educated through an institution. However, it is possible these schools are exploiting a loophole in the law because they do not require students to attend classes. Plus, home-schooling families cannot always afford them.

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Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico

Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real prepares a viscous mixture known as slime at his home in Tecámac, Mexico.

These alternatives are no substitute for regulation. Not being able to get a student’s home-school education approved can create roadblocks, such as difficulty in obtaining a passport — for children over the age of 7, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires documentation of the school they attend — and missing out on discounts for museums and cultural institutions.

Rebolledo says the lack of regulation and oversight can also put children at risk. “The possibility exists that there are children receiving home-schooling who are suffering some sort of violence, and nobody is aware of it,” she says while also admitting that most families are not interested in such oversight because they could lose their freedom in teaching and evaluating their children.

In October of last year, home-school parents and activists created the Red Nacional de Apoyo a la Educación en el Hogar, a national support network, the first of its kind in Mexico. The goal is to build a community. “It’s good to know we’re not the only ones who do home-schooling. We felt like oddballs,” Paredes says. “Knowing there is a network makes me feel supported when confronted by those who question my way of educating.”

I understand Paredes, and I appreciate the support networks and the enthusiastic and caring home-schooling families we have met along the way. But this does not erase the worry of knowing that in this country there is no legitimate means of certification and of proving that our son is learning as much as or more than any other child his age.

After having children, you find yourself doing and saying things you would not have imagined prior. I never thought of home-schooling as an option. But it is something I have found in my search for tools for an uncertain future. And this form of education is what has worked for us as a family.

Aline Suárez del Real is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Tecámac, in the state of Mexico.


Shannon Kirby, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

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