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When you don't have them, linoleum tiles can be a big deal.

"We did that ourselves," says Jose Carlos Gonzalez, the director of the Jorge Casahonda school, pointing out the new flooring.

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Thanks to Solidarity, a federal social program funded by selling off government enterprises, Mr. Gonzalez has also patched the school roof, fixed the leaking bathrooms, and repaired fraying electric wires. The government provides the materials and technical advice, teachers and parents provide the labor.

Because of the debt crisis, Mexican education budgets have lagged well behind population growth. On a per-capita basis, education spending in real terms fell 48 percent between 1981 and 1988. With economic recovery, education spending is bouncing back.

"Modernization" is the catchword for current education reforms. "The velocity and force of changes in the world make an accelerated transformation of the education system imperative," said the newly appointed Secretary of Education, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, when he took over in January.

So far, modernization at the primary school level translates into more schools and scholarships. Mexico desperately needs more schools. Some 50,000 have undergone repairs similar to the ones at Jorge Casahonda. Another 31,000 will be renovated this year. A major goal is to build some 14,000 new schools during this same period.

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