Factbox: Facts about Mexico's education system

(Reuters) - Mexico’s ambitions to become a top world economy are being held back by a corrupt education system controlled by a powerful union boss known as “The Teacher” who politicians fear to cross.

Here are some facts about education and Mexico:

* The number of Mexican students has surged to 32 million from 3 million in 1950 as the country’s population exploded.

* Most young children attend primary school but only 62 percent reach secondary school. At secondary level about half of students drop out and only a quarter reach higher education, according to non-governmental organization Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First), which is pushing for reform of the system.

* Around 45 percent of Mexicans finish secondary school, Mexicanos Primero says. By contrast, about 75 percent of U.S. students graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

* Mexicans read less than three books a year on average, a product of low education levels and poverty, studies show.

* Mexico spends about 5 percent of gross domestic product on education, a respectable level compared to other major economies, but corruption means the money does not translate into real gains in the quality of education, experts say.

* Mexican students perform badly in the education tests run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that measures standards in 65 industrialized countries. In the last study published in December, Mexican 15-year-olds came 46th in reading, 49th in mathematics and 51st in science.

* These lowly results contrast with Mexico’s status as the world’s 14th largest economy. Economists have tipped Mexico to become the world’s eighth biggest by 2050.

* Mexico’s performance in the OECD’s education rankings have in fact improved slightly in recent years and President Felipe Calderon has tried to bring in education reforms, such as ending the practice of the selling of teachers’ posts. But experts say the progress is too slow to have a big impact.

Reporting by Anahi Rama, editing by Anthony Boadle