Rebel Education

Mexico: The Power of Early Education

How a school with a rigorous curriculum for children as young as two makes a world of difference to Mexican students.

In Mexico, 21 percent of children give up education before they are 14 years old.

I was worried that traditional schooling would destroy my son's passion for learning. When he got to school, he became bored and wasn't happy. I think the school was teaching him too little, too late and too badly.

by Elisa Guerra, founder of Colegio Valle de Filadelfia

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Mexico is the country in the organisation with the third-largest number of young people who do not study nor work.

Eight out of 100 Mexican children who enrol in elementary school do not show up for classes. While barely 50 complete middle school, only 20 graduate from high school, and only two become graduate students. 

Elisa Guerra was concerned about her children’s education and came up with an alternative.

She founded Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, where children as young as three or four are taught to read, as well as how to play the violin using the Suzuki method.

“When it was time for my children to start pre-school, I wasn’t happy with any of the school options in Aguascalientes. They weren’t challenging enough or stimulating enough. I was worried that traditional schooling would destroy my son’s passion for learning. When he got to school, he became bored and wasn’t happy. I think the school was teaching him too little, too late and too badly,” says Guerra.

In Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, the curriculum is more rigorous as children as young as three are taught to read [Al Jazeera]
In Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, the curriculum is more rigorous as children as young as three are taught to read [Al Jazeera]

Her programme is being taught to 174 children in her school ranging from two-year-olds to secondary school age children (9th grade).


“My favourite thing is that they teach us different things than in other schools. They teach us culture and music from other countries and composers from different parts of the world. They teach us with a method that I think is easier and more effective to learn,” one of the students says.

There is an increasing amount of evidence about the importance of early years education. UNICEF calls it one of the most cost-efficient investments in human capital leading to a country’s sustainable development.

Guerra’s teaching methods have earned her international acclaim. She has been asked to work with the “Prospera” programme – a national initiative that helps seven million of Mexico’s poorest families. And she won the award for the best teacher in Latin America in 2015 for her work.

She believes that “if more schools and teachers were able to see education through different eyes, and if they were brave enough to innovate and break paradigms, and use methods like ours … to help children reach their potential, the possibilities of what we could do in the world would be infinite … There are really no limits to what we can do.”

In this film, we meet Guerra and follow students from a range of age groups, observing their daily activities to see how Guerra’s innovative approach makes a difference.


By Tim Froggatt 

One of the highlights of filming in Mexico was the day we spent with the Prospera organisation. This inspirational government organisation has been working for 20 years to reduce poverty and has helped over 5 million families across the country.

They give financial support to poor families, but in order to receive any money the families must guarantee they will send their children to school and attend regular sessions at the health centre. So they’re not just giving unconditional hand-outs, but improving the health and education of some of the most vulnerable families in the country. Before they started this project, there was a huge problem with many children not attending school, even though it was compulsory.

Now Prospera is working with Elisa, helping underprivileged families to give their pre-school children a better start in life.

They often don’t have access to books and their parents may not be well educated. These children can easily find themselves at a disadvantage before they’ve even started school. We had a lovely time filming and laughing with the Prospera staff, the mothers and their young children. I really hope that this project makes a genuine difference in their lives, and hope that it grows to be a major part of Prospera’s work.

Elisa Guerra's teaching methods have earned her international acclaim [Al Jazeera]
Elisa Guerra’s teaching methods have earned her international acclaim [Al Jazeera]

But for many people, the ideas of Colegio Valle de Filadelfia – such as teaching so much to such young children – are very controversial.

They go against much of the perceived wisdom in the educational world. For example, students in Finland have for the past two decades, been among the highest performing students worldwide, by adopting a national education policy that’s the complete opposite of what we filmed at Colegio Valle de Filadelfia.

Finland doesn’t start formal education until seven years old, believing that children aren’t ready to learn at a young age.

However, it was certainly clear to me that the staff, parents and, indeed, the students at Colegio Valle de Filadelfia are completely on board with the ideals of the school. And what makes this school special is far more than just the unusual teaching methods that they use. 

I discovered that, in Mexico, teaching is not a particularly respected career. Elisa originally wanted to be a writer, and she was told that she could always become a teacher “if she failed” at that. I was told that the public’s perception of the profession is that teachers are lazy and often on strike. By contrast, Colegio Valle de Filadelfia really values its staff. It dedicates time to training them. And because they’re highly trained, the school empowers the teachers and trusts them to know what’s best for their classes.

The school also provides a broad and holistic education, rather than just focusing solely on academic subjects and the national curriculum. In fact, this is one of the recurring themes I’ve seen across the world while working on Rebel Education: the importance of a well-rounded education.

To engage students, and to provide an education that’s truly effective, institutions are looking beyond teaching test answers and a narrow set of knowledge. It’s about a rich experience and encouraging children to pursue their interests. In that way, future generations are given an education that genuinely equips them for the fast-changing world of the 21st century.