Mexico: Publishers Dispute State English Language Training

In News by Porter Anderson

The Mexican Publishers Association, already in court over state textbooks, now sees English-language training overtaken by the government.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Antonio Diaz

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Further Marginalizing Millions of Students and Teachers’
Since Publishing Perspectives first reported in September 2023 on the textbook crisis in Mexico, publishers say the situation has gone from bad to worse, with the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador now taking steps to produce its own English-language-training books.

The Mexican Publishers Association, the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM), has issued a formal declaration and complaint, calling out the Ministry of Public Education (SEP) for its effort through the National Commission of Free Textbooks (CONALITEG), to develop educational materials for the teaching of the English language in preschool, primary, and secondary schools.”

In a remarkable next-shoe-to-fall development, the most influential book publishing body in Mexico—the country with the largest number of native Spanish speakers in the world—is in litigation with its own federal government over the free-enterprise right to produce not only Spanish-language educational materials but also English-language training (ELT), the latter being vital to the future prosperity of Mexico’s nearshoring national workforce.

Having pushed aside more than 25 years of successful protocols for private commercial textbook creation in Spanish, Mexico’s federal government, the publishers say, now has declined to recognize the publishing community’s Guidelines To Authorize the Use of Didactic Packages for the for the Subject  of English as a Foreign Language in Public Schools of Basic Education of the National Education System.

Hugo Setzer

This means, the publishers say, that the government is once more making its own educational materials—as it was discovered to be doing last autumn with Spanish-language texts. Government agencies “are allegedly preparing the English textbooks for the 2024-2025 school year,” the CANIEM says, “without having the corresponding study programs for preschool and elementary school,”  information that’s part of the Guidelines.

This action, according to Hugo Setzer, the CANIEM president and former president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), means language instruction of dubious quality, which “will further marginalize millions of students and teachers from the possibilities that English proficiency offers for life.

“As a guild, our obligation is to look after the interests of our members, but more importantly as Mexicans, our objective is that the new generations can meet their goals and not be left behind in the face of the advances of our time.”

Losses: Educational Quality and Nearshoring

When a system of private publishers bidding for the right to produce national textbooks is superseded by a government overtake of textbook creation and production, the result is a clear loss of the freedom to publish for many publishers, who no longer have an open market in which to operate.

Related article: ‘Mexico: Government Textbooks Spur Nationwide Criticism.‘ Image – Getty iStockphoto: Max Rastello

And what’s more, the CANIEM writes, “This decision compromises the education and academic training in the English language of millions of Mexican children; violates the rights of teachers to choose and have access to quality teaching materials; and tramples the rights of different publishing houses to participate in their development.

“This puts at risk millions of young people entering the job market to take advantage of Mexico’s integration with the world’s largest and most dynamic international market and such associated phenomena as ‘nearshoring,’ since they do not have basic communication skills.”

Nearshoring, of course, is a business strategy that involves outsourcing various business processes and needs to nearby markets. The United States, obviously, positions the world’s most robust English-language economy in excellent proximity to Mexico. But without the requisite English-language skills, then Mexico’s native Spanish speakers are left out of the nearshoring benefit.

In sobering terms, the Mexican publishers are laying out the parameters of this worsening standoff between schools, families, a ready publishing industry, and what they say are the determined efforts of the López Obrador administration. As our international professional readership knows, CANIEM in October announced a lawsuit of the government which, at the time was in extensive distribution of its self-made textbooks in Spanish.

The CANIEM’s statement today to the news media of this English-language alarm reads, in part:

“English is the most-spoken language in the world. It is the one that allows a student to find better job and academic opportunities in Mexico and almost anywhere in the world. According to a study conducted in 2023 by Education First, Mexico ranks 89th out of 113 countries in terms of English language proficiency.

Related article: ‘Mexico’s Book Chamber Files Lawsuit in Textbook Dispute.’ Image: Walking home from school in Vallodolid, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – Getty iStockphoto: Kertu EE

“Mexico’s main trading partners are the United States and Canada; in addition, the largest number of tourists coming to Mexico also come from these two countries. In order to take advantage of these benefits, among others, it is essential for Mexican students to be able to communicate in English, and to do so, the teaching of English must be strengthened.

“Hence the urgency of addressing this issue as a priority so that our country does not lose this opportunity.

“The current guidelines for the production of textbooks, which have been repeatedly disregarded by the ministry of public education throughout this administration, state that the materials produced by publishing companies and which meet the established requirements should be presented in lists to teachers, so that they can freely select the books they consider suitable for their classes. Thus, they can be acquired by the state and distributed free of charge to students.

“Additionally, the call of the ministry and the national commission of free textbooks violates ‘the principle of non-regression,’ an obligation of all authorities of the Mexican State aimed at ensuring that, when a certain standard is reached in the protection of human rights, it is not regressed in order to achieve its full realization in the future. This principle is established in Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution, Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

The legal position CANIEM is taking is that its’ actually illegal for the government to take it upon itself to produce English-language training textbooks for preschool and elementary school “without having previously elaborated and presented the study programs to which such books must be adjusted; secondly because the call cannot be made without previously being published in the Official Gazette of the Federation. And finally because in an open and notoriously discriminatory manner, several publishing houses were excluded, all of which are members of the Mexican Association of Publishers.

The Political Context

Many authoritarian governments have included state textbook publishing as an early foray into the erosion of free expression, deploying disinformation to dumb down a population being routed away from critical thinking.

A year ago, in March 2023, Valerie Wirtschafter and Arturo Sarukhan wrote at the Brookings Institution, “As Mexico’s Senate celebrated the passage of a bill designed to curb the power of the National Electoral Institute (INE), the non-partisan and independent agency that oversees elections, the country took another step backward toward its decades-long authoritarian past. … Under president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a pugnacious and charismatic leader who swept to power in 2018, Mexico’s independent institutions are slowly losing their ability to serve as a counterweight to the executive.”

The member-publishers of CANIEM are up against what appears to be another textbook-control grab by the Mexican government for intellectual impact on its population.

Setzer, the CANIEM president, will be at Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 8 to 11). CANIEM, in cooperation with the Association of American Publishers and the Guadalajara International Book Fair, is producing the the 34th International Publishers Congress from the International Publishers Association, December 3 to 6.  Information and ticketing for the congress are available here.

Bologna Programming Notes

One event in which publishing professionals can engage is set for Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 8 to 11) at the Bologna Book Plus theater in Hall 29, on April 8 at 4 p.m.

Kristenn Einarsson, Enrica Manenti (center), and Barbara Hoepli speak on April 8 at the Bologna Book Plus stage of Bologna Children’s Book Fair on the “trinity of freedoms” that international publishing professionals are coming together to promote

In that event, Publishing Perspectives will moderate a discussion titled Supporting a Trinity of Freedoms: To Express; To Publish; To Read.

Speaking will be:

  • Kristenn Einarsson, chair IPA Freedom to Publish committee and WEXFO CEO
  • Enrica Manenti, librarian, Modena
  • Barbara Hoepli, Hoepli bookshop, Milan

The session will look at the joint action of these five international organizations and at the pressures that authors, booksellers, librarians, and publishers are encountering. The question is what the book-business sector can do to ensure these freedoms are preserved, protected, and employed by people throughout the world.

Another Bologna event in the WEXFO and IPA Trinity of Freedoms context is also set for late on April 8, this one at 5:30 p.m. and presented by the Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor Slovenia program from Slovenian Book Agency, JAK, and Aldus Up and set in the Authors Café in Hall 30.

Karine Pansa and, from left, Kristenn Einarsson, Christoph Bläsi, Luis González, and moderator Miha Kovač speak on April 8 at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Authors Café on the Ljubljana Reading Manifesto

This discussion is titled Higher-Level Reading, AI, and Book Publishing: The Ljubljana Reading Manifesto.

Speaking will be:

  • Karine Pansa, IPA president
  • Kristenn Einarsson, chair IPA Freedom to Publish committee
  • Christoph Bläsi, University of Mainz and Aldus Up
  • Luis González, Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, Aldus Up
  • Miha Kovač, Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor Slovenia curator

From text provided to Publishing Perspectives about this session: “Digitization is one of the fastest accelerators of change in human history. But we also live in a time when stupidity and vulgarity are not only on public display but are becoming a political virtue, and social media enclose us in bubbles. How can we communicate all these complexities in book formats without getting lost in simplifications? And what role does higher level reading play in understanding the complexity of today’s world? Is it an obscure intellectual technique that is becoming obsolete, or is it something that cannot be replaced by a range of new media activities? Do we need to rethink its position both in publishing and in the cultural landscape as a whole?”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Mexican market is here, more on educational publishing is here, and more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here. More on Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here, more from us on children’s books is here, more on publishing and book awards is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here

More of our coverage relative to the 2024 Bologna Children’s Book Fair

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.