El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

Las Escuelas Patitos

with 2 comments

https://i2.wp.com/www.saynotocrack.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/duck.gif In Spanish, “patitos” means “little ducks”, in the vernacular in Latin America it means “phony”. So, for example, there is the reference to a “Patito Republic”, a nation under the rule of the military or a dictator that attempts to be seen as a modern Republic. A friend explained it to me once as being similar to the “Acme” brand name in the old Road Runner cartoons. Every time the coyote would open a crate with a rocket sled or jet-powered roller skates it would be marked as coming from Acme Corporation. Although there are companies called Acme, and in fact, there is a brand of household bleach called “los Patitos” my friend explained that it is not a brand name that inspires confidence. It is a joke in Mexico.

Las escuelas patitos translates as “the schools of the little ducks” but it refers to the “phony” low-quality private schools that have appeared all around the big urban centers of Mexico. They have them in the States, too. There, they are designed to steal people’s student loan money, leaving them with a big debt and a generally, as well as, a genuinely, worthless education. Here, they just steal the money right out of your (or your parent’s) pockets. It is all part of what has become known as the “Edu-business”.

It is my opinion that these “phony” schools are a cruel joke, not only on their students but on the state of education in Mexico. These schemes come in different subjects, for example, computer schools are all over the place now. Beauty schools, tourism, cooking and auto repair training are also examples. But the ones I am most familiar with are “las escuelas patitos” of English. I’ll be honest, it is embarrassing to see these “schools” proliferating while the country’s educational establishment simply watches from the sidelines. I call them the burger king schools, because if you have enough money you can either buy a restaurant franchise or an English school franchise. (And you don’t even need to speak English yourself!)

My experience has been that every Mexican in the big industrial cities knows about las escuelas patitos, but no one ever talks about them! It took me six months to figure out what was going on. I don’t doubt that some of the founders of these schools began with the purest of intentions–to provide quality instruction to students of English that simply can’t get what they need from a public university system mired in a bureaucracy that is, frankly, designed to not work. As the multi-national manufacturers became established in Mexico, language schools became a fast buck bonanza for the unscrupulous. Competition increased with schools popping up on every other block. Increasingly low-quality programs drove down the level of instruction and the expectations of both teachers and students. Businesses shopped around for the lowest price. Schools became businesses. Education became a victim. In the mean time the patitos continue to cheat their students, abuse their teachers and suck resources away from legitimate educational opportunity.

I’ve talked with teachers from all levels of schools across central Mexico and the only thing that surprises them is that a foreigner is talking about “los patitos”. So I think it is time for el Fomentador to start discussing this issue. I intend to share stories of bad schools and the people that run them. As an example, there was a private “Universidad” in northern Mexico that had three of the owners young children listed as members of the “Board of Regents” of the school!

What I am asking is for others that have had experiences with the patitos to share their stories also. I am looking forward to reading what you have to say. adios amigos, el Fomentador


Written by El Fomentador

February 18, 2008 at 10:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The term “Las Escuelas Patitos” is a new one for me, though I suspect that the schools in which I taught English would be included in that group.

    One school had no curriculum and basically no books or other resources. I was left on my own to find my own materials and develop my own curriculum. Fortunately, I have a Bachelor’s degree in education from a university in the USA, so was not totally adrift.

    The director was not really concerned about how much English the students learned in class. I was told “just make them happy…do recipes and stuff.”

    The director persisted in mixing the classes, both with regard to age as well as the student’s level of English. I tried explaining that no one would be satisfied because I did not have time to teach to all the various levels during one hour of class. Nor could I teach just at an intermediate level because the beginners would be lost and the more advanced students would be bored.

    For instance, I had an eight-year-old girl who had had no English before her parents enrolled her in my class. She needed to learn the alphabet and needed activities geared to her age level. Fine, I could do that. We could color and work with books geared to children and talk about things that interested her.

    However, she was not the only student in the class. At eight, she was the youngest. I also had adults in the same class. At one point, I had students at every level in the same class…rank beginners to those who wanted to prepare for the TOEFL!!!

    Finally, I persuaded the director to at least split the TOEFL students into a separate class. That helped somewhat, but even then, I had basically rank beginners to advanced in the TOEFL class (the director told everyone, even rank beginners, that my class would prepare him/her to take the TOEFL in three months!!!).

    After a frustrating year, I finally told the director I could no longer work at the school. The last I heard, the school had closed. I guess the director could not find anyone to replace me (I was the only teacher at the school).

    Not surprisingly, this mixing of levels of ability and age in the same class was the norm at the other schools where I taught English.

    I gave up teaching ESL, though I enjoyed helping the students.

    Keep adding to your blog. I enjoy what you’ve shared so far!

    Cindi in Guanajuato (the capital, not SMA)


    March 27, 2008 at 8:54 pm

  2. Gracias Cindi,

    “Las escuelas patitos”. As I’ve said, a Mexican friend told me about it–since then, I’ve gotten laughs with it everywhere from the Rotary Club to the corner cantina. Then, people stop, look knowingly, and promptly change the subject. Again, in my experience, a topic that most Mexicans know about, but that no one talks about.

    Yes, a big sign of a patito: they don’t care what you teach or what the students learn. The idea is to just keep them coming back every week paying their 100 pesos, (or whatever it is they are being robbed of now. I mean, they really are just scams).

    The more sophisticated patitos-the ones with international brand names-actually make more money off of their crummy material; it is always wildly over-priced and generally useless to both the teachers and the students.

    It’s too bad you’ve given up on teaching–they need good teachers here–whether they know it or not. I’m sorry you had to learn all of this the hard way too. Of course the real tragedy is that the students you described are probably all desperate to learn English.

    Desperate enough to be taken in by “directors” that are nothing more than used car salespersons. The patitos proliferate because students have little alternative; English language curriculum at the public schools isn’t much better, and much less accessible.

    I’ve seen “programs” that offer: “completely bi-lingual in one-year; or six months; or three months; and even one up north somewhere called “Bi-Lingual in Seven Days!” (But rumor has it that the teaching techniques may include, but are not limited to, being forced to watch Harry Potter videos, or, being subjected to water-boarding, which ever you may consider the lesser form of torture, or not torture…ok, just kidding, really.)

    But, I remain eternally, if somewhat guardedly, (many would say unrealistically), optimistic that things may improve. I’ll share one more story: a good friend here, a native speaker, has been quietly building a reputation as someone that can get people talking and using their English. He started out scraping by, went through not being paid, or cheated out of hours, etc., but now has been the victor in a couple of salary negotiations with, decidedly, “patitoesque” schools. During one of the interviews he told the director, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. They came back a few weeks later and offered him the job at whatever salary he wanted!

    I like that story because it is a win-win situation; consider it a victory for us all. A teacher gets paid better, the customer gets a better product, the school has to consider that providing quality instruction may, in fact, require some level of ethical behavior. And, ideally, it helps raise the standards for everyone: teachers, students and even patito “administrators”.

    Thanks again for your story, adios

    El Fomentador

    March 30, 2008 at 8:01 am

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