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7. THE RIGHTS OF PRE-SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN TO ALL-ROUND DEVELOPMENT

The protection of children’s rights

Legislation

One of the main tasks in the area of children’s rights faced by the nation after 1991 was the development of a base of legislation governing children’s rights, the coordination of children’s rights efforts and the establishment of an authoritative department in the field.

On September 4, 1991 Latvia joined the United Nations Convention of Children’s Rights, thus agreeing to establish all legislative and administrative structures required to implement these rights.

On July 8, 1998, the Latvian Children’s Rights Law was ratified; this law guarantees children’s rights and freedoms at the national level. The law is based on the UN Convention of Children’s Rights. The goal of the law is to define not only the child’s rights and freedoms, but to also outline the child’s obligation toward his family; the law also defines the responsibilities of the national and local government, parents, guardians and other individuals toward the child.

Institutions for the protection of children’s rights

The National Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights was established in 1995. The Centre is nationally run and is overseen by the Ministry of Science and Education. The Centre monitors compliance to children’s rights legislation and, within the range of its authority, coordinates children’s rights efforts throughout the nation.

The inter-ministry Children’s Rights Commission was established in 1996 to assure a unified approach to children’s rights policy in accordance with national legislation, the UN Children's Rights Convention, the International Children’s Rights Declaration and other international agreements entered into by Latvia.

In 1996 the Ministry Cabinet approved a statute establishing "Regional children’s rights centres". Based on this document, four regional centres have been established, all funded by local governments.

Local governments all employ children’s rights experts, who coordinate and oversee children’s rights activities and efforts.

In accordance with the law pertaining to "Custody courts and civil courts" (Nov. 6, 1995) and the Ministry Cabinet statute "Rules pertaining to the functions and activities of custody courts and civil courts", regional custody and trusteeship centres have been established.

The national program to improve conditions for children in 1999 was approved by the Ministry Cabinet as a part of the national children’s rights effort. To implement the program various competitions have been announced regarding specific projects: Organising a child’s leisure time, preventive efforts in work with socially-at-risk children, and the raising of qualification levels of children’s rights experts.

The unemployment rate varies greatly throughout the nation, the highest rate is in the small villages and rural communities, the ability to provide for their children’s all-round development has been severely affected.

The household budget

Results of a study conducted by the Economics Institute of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, "The Family in Latvia" showed if the family has more children more of the household expenses (over 40 – 50%) are for grocery which points to the relative low standard of living. What is very disturbing is the fact that in families with more children, the average amount spent to feed each child is much less. Health related expenses show the same pattern.

The greatest part of a family’s income is spent on food, clothing and shelter – up to 75%. That means that there is less to spend on other necessities, including education. Children’s talents and abilities are not realized to their fullest potential due to financial hardship.

The health status of pre-school age children

The status of children’s health is negatively affected by the inability of the poor to provide quality nutrition and health care for their families.

The study by the Economics Institute of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, "The Family in Latvia", compared results of questionnaires completed by parents of pre-school age children. Their findings showed that in comparing a child’s health at age 3 and in the first grade, children from poorer families showed evidence of deterioration of health in the way of breathing disorders, complaints of constant fatigue, both of which affect the ability to study. It should be noted, that health problems seem to affect children living in the city more than rural children; this could be due, in part, to air pollution and food contamination.

The study also showed that children from poor families seldom attended pre-school institutions because parents could not afford to pay the necessary fees to guarantee placement. These fees are paid by certain local governments for children from large and/or poor families.

Community and government assistance to families with children usually is in the form of assistance with communal payments, free school lunch programs, donations of shoes and clothing, financial assistance with school related expenses.

The government guarantees free health insurance for children up to the age of one year and to children who are invalids. Children receive free vaccinations and medical treatment at a nominal fee up to the age of 18.

The role of community organizations in the field of children’s rights

Several community organizations have been established since 1991 whose main purpose is to provide assistance to children. The three having made the most significant contributions in this field are "Save the Children", "The Latvian Children’s Fund". These organizations run charity drives on a regular basis, which have resulted in funds that have been donated to orphanages, children from poor families and children who are invalids.

These groups have been successful in securing effective assistance from local businesses and foreign sources as well. They are also actively involved in educational efforts and in the nutrition, care and development of children.

Community organizations have enlisted the help of the media in keeping the public informed of children’s rights violations.

Some community organizations take part in national children’s rights efforts, actively suggesting activities and projects. The National Centre of the Protection of Children’s Rights, for example, has signed an agreement with the community organization "Education for a Civil Society". The project involves attorneys, teachers, psychologists, educational experts and social workers from both government and community organizations.

Major accomplishments in the protection of children’s rights 1991 – 1999

The ratification of the Latvian Children’s Rights Protection Law can be considered as the most significant step toward true protection of children’s rights and compliance with the UN Convention on Children’s Rights.

The establishment of institutions, both on a national and regional level, for the protections of children’s rights is significant.

The establishment of community organizations and their active involvement in the issue has been most significant.

What needs to be done to improve the protection of children’s rights in Latvia

One of the main priorities in the protection of children’s rights is the conceptual formulation of a system of protection of children’s rights.

National and local government agencies do not offer enough support to families in the areas of child rearing and education. This is due in part to lack of funding, but also to a shortage of expertise in the field.

Education of the public in children’s rights issues is also deterred by lack of funding. Research studies and the establishment of a base of information all require financial allotments.

According to both Latvian and international experts, an excessive number of children in Latvia are under institutional care. Unfortunately this care does not guarantee the all-round development of a child nor does it enable a child to become socialized. Therefore, it is crucial to modify and improve institutional care to bring it up to the level of family care.

One of the main tasks of the children’s rights movement is to activate a close working relationship between professionals and those families from whom children have been taken in order to help those families overcome social difficulties, and to promote the return of the children to their families.

8. PRE-SCHOOLEDUCATION

Pre-school education is the first part of the general education program in Latvia, preparing children up to the age of 7 but not past the age of 8 for the educational process and contributing to the overall development of the child. Pre-school education is the responsibility of parents and pre-school education facilities.

Legislation

Pre-school education is regulated by the Education Law (1998), the Law of General Education (1999) and other related legislation and resolutions.

Funding

Funding for pre-school education at public schools comes from national and local budgets according to procedures defined by the Ministry Cabinet. Parents usually pay only for meals and expenses resulting from special programs such as foreign language instruction in kindergarten.

Children from poor or large families may receive assistance with these fees if the local government is in a position to offer such assistance.

Private pre-schools may charge tuition.

Pre-school program curricula

The purpose of pre-school education is to promote the all-round development of the child’s personality, and to help the child attain the level of skill and knowledge necessary to continue his studies at the basic level.

Pre-school education in Latvia has been developed based on two programs, "The main directions of pre-school education" and "The pre-school educational program". The approach promotes and encourages children’s socialization and development.

"The program for the preparation of five- and six-year olds for basic" is used in work with this age group.

Pre-school education is available in Latvian, Russian and other minority languages such as Polish and Lithuanian, for example. Groups that are instructed in a language other than Latvian, have lessons in Latvian as well. To facilitate the learning of Latvian as a second language, the "Latvian language program at the pre – schools level" was developed.

The pre-school education program

A "Pre-school education program" has been nationally approved for all facilities offering pre-school education. The approach is developmental rather than traditionally instructional; to help a child develop his curiosity and learning ability and to develop his personality rather than just learning cold, hard facts. The aim of the program is to develop each child’s aesthetic, ethical, intellectual and physical activity level so that he is motivated to learn about his world and to learn from the adults around him. It is important that the child develop a strong concept of SELF based on his own learning experiences, his wishes and his interests; humanistic interpersonal values are the groundwork for such a learning approach.

Two programs have been developed having their basis in the Education Law. One of them is the "Program for the preparation of five- and six- year olds for Basic education" for children who do not attend pre-schools on a regular basis or who start attending at age 5; the other is "Methodological recommendations for the mandatory preparation of five- and six-year-olds for basic education", which helps local governments determine the most appropriate methods and organizational structure for preparing children for basic school. The "Latvian language program for minority pre-schools" has also been implemented.

8.1. Pre-school education- opportunities and guarantees

Guarantees of pre-school education

Pre-school education programs are available at the following facilities:

General pre – schools;

Special pre – schools;

Pre-school education consulting centres;

Play groups and pre-school education groups at various other schools.

There was a significant rise in the number of pre-schools in the period from 1950 to 1990. The birthrate has declined by a factor of two since 1990, therefore the number of children presently attending pre – schools or expected to attend in the next few years has decreased as well. Birth statistics are directly related to the social and economic conditions in the country.

In 1985 there were enough vacancies in pre-schools for only 61% of the children in that age group. During the late 1980s and early 1990s changes in legislation followed closely on the heels of social and economic changes. Women were allowed to take a three-year maternity leave, receive child support and not lose their job or job status. At first, many women took advantage of this benefit. Beside the other benefits, parents received some financial support if their children did not attend pre-schools. Consequently, many parents stopped enrolling their children in pre-schools programs, and the smaller number of children along with decreases in tuition income ultimately led to the closing of Pre-school education facilities. In 1993 pre-school education facilities were attended by only 28% of all children of pre-school age.

In the years that followed, the number of children attending pre – schools gradually increased and by 1996 43% of all children of pre-school age attended a pre-school program. By 1999 this percentage had inched up to 44%.

Although demand for pre-school programs is on the rise, pre-school educational facilities continue to close; the rate of closure, however, is considerably lower than in the early 90s (see Table 4., Figure1.).

Table 6

Language of instruction at pre-school education facilities

Years

1996

1997

Number of children in groups instructed in Latvian

49864

48520

Number of children in groups instructed in Russian

22100

19356

Number of children in groups instructed in Russian

179

183

Number of children in groups of mixed instruction, Latvian and Russian

148

364

Source: National Statistics Commission data, 1998.

Latvian is the language of instruction at 376 pre-school education facilities, 71 facilities teach in Russian and 135 facilities teach in both Latvian and Russian.

Along with the pre-school program, children at minority schools are also taught about their respective culture, traditions, history and language.

Funding for minority pre-school education facilities is based on the same principles as Latvian language pre-school education facilities.

Alternative schools

There are several alternative pre-school education programs available in Latvia, each of which functions according to its own principles and tenets. They are the Waldorf Program, the Steinert Program and the Montessori School. The first alternative programs appeared shortly after 1991. Alternative Pre-school education programs are attended by only a few children of pre-school age. The reason for this is twofold: The programs are expensive and most parents tend to be skeptical of alternative methods, choosing to put their trust in traditional approaches. The alternative programs, however, do offer parents a viable educational choice.

Special education at the pre-school level

Special needs children (those with learning disabilities, speech impediments, physical and emotional developmental disorders) can attend special education facilities, which provide need-appropriate medical treatment along with the academic program.

Unlike regular pre-schools, which are budgeted by local governments and parents incur meal expenses, special education pre-school facilities are nationally run and funded.

Educational materials and study aids

Very little of what is available to pre-school teachers in the way of educational materials is appropriate and suitable for newly developed programs of education. It is imperative that materials, which comply with the "Pre-school education program", be produced and be made available to all pre-school teachers. Especially important are material used to teach Latvian as a second language in minority schools.

Teaching staff

Many qualified teachers have left the field of pre-school education due to the low salary structure.

Latvian universities and colleges are unable to fill the demand for qualified pre-school teachers.

Along with organizational and curriculum related reforms, the raising of the level of qualification of teaching staff is crucial.

Continuing education of pre-school teachers is funded by a special fund in the national budget for "Educational Measures"; in 1997 this fund covered 7% of total continuing education expenses, 3% was covered in 1998 and only 2% in 1999. This is not enough to meet the demands for continuing education of pre-school education teachers.

Rating the development of pre-school education 1991 – 1999

The various reforms and changes in pre-school education during this period clearly show that the number of children attending pre – schools is steadily growing as is parental concern that their children be adequately prepared for basic school.

Minority pre-schools have been established to give all children the right to learn in their native language. A pre-school group can be started at the request of the parents of at least 10 children.

Alternative pre-school programs give parents a wider range of choices. Private facilities have been established, but they are few in number and tuition at private schools is high.

A significant accomplishment in pre-school education was the formulation and ratification of the "Pre-school education program", which stresses the development of the child.

Using the Education Law (1998) as their basis, two programs have been established in the hopes of achieving greater academic equity among children starting grade 1; the two are "Preparing five- and six-year-olds for basic school" and "Methodological recommendations in preparing five- and six-year olds for basic education".

Recommendations have been worked out for parents who choose to work with their children at home.

Individual kindergarten programs have been awarded the status of pre-school education consulting centres, and they consult with parents regarding effective preparation of children for school.

Methodological recommendations still need to be worked out for parents and teachers outlining the various methods that can be used in preparing five- and six-year-olds for school.

9. MANDATORY BASIC EDUCATION

Latvia has a unified, ongoing system of education consisting of the following levels:

Pre-school program

Basic program, includes the first stage and the second stage

General secondary program

Basic, secondary and upper level professional education

Higher education

Continuing education

The term "basic education" used in the "Education for All" document refers to the combined pre-school and basic program. The two stages of basic education are the first stage also know as primary school (grades 1 – 4) and the second stage (grades 5 – 9).

Special attention is paid to the basic education of special needs and minority children.

Mandatory basic education in Latvia

Basic education is a preparatory level of education, preparing students for secondary or professional training; it provides students with the necessary personal skills and knowledge level to successfully function as a member of society, a positive value-oriented education and a level of social involvement.

Legislation

There is no specific basic education legislation; all regulations pertaining to this level of education are set forth in the Education Law (1989) and the General Education Law (1999). Prior to these laws the Education Law of 1991 and its amendments were the definitive legislation.

Funding

Basic education in Latvia is free. Private schools, of course, are the exception; they have the right to charge tuition.

The Education Law states that all public basic and secondary education programs are funded by monies from the national and regional budgets.

Fundamental principles of basic education

The fundamental principles of basic education in Latvia are the following:

It is unified in approach: Education in Latvia is a unified whole; this whole includes the Basic program. The autonomy of individual schools is coordinated with national regulations.

It is mandatory: Basic education in Latvia is both mandatory and guaranteed to all.

It is a liberal arts education: The content of basic education consists of all that is important and essential and culturally significant for any child, regardless of further professional or academic pursuits.

Equitability: Equal educational opportunity exists for all, including special needs children regardless of their ethnic, social or religious affiliation.

It is cooperative in approach: The goals and principles of basic education can only be realized in cooperative efforts on the part of all educators involved in the process.

Adequacy: Basic education forms an indispensable basis for a meaningful existence and continuing education.

Basic education facilities

Basic education is available at facilities that are classified in two ways:

By founder

By language of instruction

The facilities classified by founder fall into three categories:

National

Regional

Private

In 1991, immediately after Latvia regained its independence, all schools in Latvia were considered national. Along with the Education Law ratified that year, most schools were delegated to the authority and financial responsibility of regional governments (see Table 7.). This opened the door for the establishment of private schools as well. A certain number of speciality schools remained the responsibility of the national government; these included sports and music schools, special education facilities and other schools that provided mandatory basic education along with the speciality to children from all across the country

Table 7.

Administration of educational facilities offering a complete basic program

Years

1995/96

1996/97

1997/98

1998/99

Schools run by the Ministry of education and Science and regional jurisdictions

965

970

970

970

Schools run by the Ministry of Culture

 

3

3

3

3

Schools run by the Welfare Ministry

 

1

1

1

1

Private schools

 

15

25

31

38

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Information and analysis

Delegating educational authority and financial responsibility to regional governments was a big step in the decentralization of the educational system and the development of the autonomous nature of each individual school. This process, however, had a negative effect as well. Often regional governments and school personnel were not ready to take over running the schools in their territory on a permanent basis. Special funds in the national budget are earmarked for teachers’ salaries and textbook purchases at these regionally run schools. However, not all regional governments have the financial ability to maintain their school buildings and purchase the necessary school supplies.

Demographic factors such as a decrease in birthrate and movement of the population to cities along with the already mentioned economic factor have lead to many schools across Latvia having a less than acceptable enrolment rate. There are about 160 schools, with instruction in Latvian, that have an enrolment of less than 100 students each.

The upkeep of these schools is very expensive and it is difficult to guarantee them with all the latest in educational supplies. Closure of such schools, however, often has serious social ramifications. These are often the only available schools in a parish. To the end of guaranteeing a quality education to all its residents, Latvia has made optimizing the school network a priority. The optimization process keeps in mind that it is ideal for a child to have the first stage (grade 1 – 4 or 6) opportunities close to home, but transportation opportunities and infrastructure are being improved to facilitate travel to well-equipped, modern schools located at a greater distance.

The 1991 Education Law did away with the national educational monopoly and allowed the establishment of private schools (see Table 8.)..

Table 8.

Private schools in Latvia 1995 - 1998

Years

1995/96

1996/97

1997/98

1998/99

Total number of private schools

24

39

42

49

Day schools

24

39

42

49

Basic first stage schools

9

14

11

11

Basic schools

6

13

15

21

Secondary schools

9

12

16

17

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Information and analysis

The number of private basic schools is still relatively small due to the national economy and a low rate of income. The national government is not in a position to provide these schools with enough financial assistance.

The language of instruction at educational facilities

Schools where the language of instruction is Latvian

Schools where the language of instruction is Russian

Schools where the languages of instruction are Latvian and Russian

Schools where the language of instruction is neither Latvian or Russian.

Paragraph 9 of the 1998 Education Law provides that:

Education in public schools takes place in the national language;

Education is available in languages other than Latvian at private schools offering ethnic minority programs and at public schools that offer ethnic minority programs. The Ministry of Science and Education determines which courses in minority programs are to be taught in Latvian.

Basic education in Latvia is available in Latvian, Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Byelorussia and Lithuanian. Students of minorities can attend minority schools or classes. (see Table 9).

Table 9.

Student breakdown by language of instruction at general education day and evening facilities, % of total number of students (grades 1-12)

Years

1995/96

1996/97

1997/98

1998/99

Day schools

       

Latvian

60.45

61.97

63.43

64.95

Russian

39.2

37.77

36.27

34.71

Polish

0.19

0.19

0.22

0.24

Ukrainian

0.05

0.05

0.06

0.07

Byelarussian

0.01

0.01

0.01

0.01

Lithuanian

0.01

0.01

0.01

0.01

Evening schools

       

Latvian

61.45

62.55

61.07

61.4

Russian

38.55

37.45

38.93

38.52

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Information and analysis

All minority first stage schools in Latvia will become bilingual schools starting with the 1999/2000 academic year.

Teachers in basic education

According to Paragraph 48 of the Education Law (1998), any person having earned an accredited degree in education or who is in the process of earning such a degree in education may work as a teacher in the basic education system.

A teacher’s professional status is affirmed by a diploma or an equivalent document of certification.

Certain requirements exist for each educational level; pre-school and basic level teachers must have an upper level pedagogic degree or certification.

If a teacher with all the necessary educational requirements is not available, the school may hire a teacher without the necessary credentials; this contract is usually for one year (see Table 10.).

Table 10.

Number of instructional staff and their educational level at facilities offering mandatory basic programs 1998/99 academic year

 

National total

Having advanced degree

Percent of total

Having secondary education

Percent of total

grade

1-4

 

1200

 

825

 

 

68,75%

 

375

 

32,25%

grade

5-9

 

10604

 

7889

 

75,39%

 

 

2715

 

24,61%

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Educational Development operational data

The extremely low salary structure is the single biggest deterrent in attracting qualified individuals to the profession. This is discussed in detail in the section "Instructional staff".

Textbooks and educational materials in the basic school

Textbooks

The system of textbook purchasing and distribution changed in 1995. Prior to 1995, the government dealt directly with publishers in financing textbook publication. Now each educational facility receives funds for textbook purchases based on the number of students enrolled at the school. The teaching staff at the schools selects the books it wants to use. This change has promoted the development of the book market in Latvia in the last few years. As a result of healthy competition between the publishers, the book market in Latvia has been flooded with quality textbooks; often more than one textbook is available for the instruction of mandatory courses.

The government contributes to the development of the textbook market by holding competitions and financing the production of textbooks for new subjects. Special education textbook production is totally funded by the national government.

Other educational materials

In 1998 the educational information project known as LISS was established to assure that all schools in Latvia would have the necessary educational information technology. Regional information centres have been established as well. Computer classes in schools throughout the country are being financed by the national government.

Serious problems have developed with the purchase of special supplies for certain subjects such as home economics, physics, chemistry and others. The production of these materials is the responsibility of the manufacturer and schools do not receive financial assistance for their purchase. Consequently, schools often are functioning with outdated supplies.

10. BASIC EDUCATION –THE FIRST STAGE

The first stage of basic education is not strictly separated from the second stage neither in content nor educational facilities. The main difference is in methods, which change depending on the age of the student. Studies have been on-going throughout the 1990s to determine the optimal length of the first stage program; teachers and psychologists are having some difficulty in arriving at the definitive answer, so Latvia still has both four- and six-year first stage programs and facilities.

Educational programs

Educational direction of the first stage program is not clearly defined. Speciality schools, of course, are the exception with clearly defined programs in music and foreign language, for example. The specifics of educational curricula content are determined by the differing needs and developmental levels of the students. In Stage I, parents and children may choose from the following options:

A program of general education;

Special education programs for special needs children;

Minority education programs;

Individual schools are responsible for creating educational programs in compliance with the Education Law, the National Standard for Basic Education and specific sample programs where necessary.

Mandatory subjects in the first stage program are:

Latvian

A Foreign Language

Mathematics

The Natural Sciences

Sports

Music

Visual Arts

Arts and crafts

Speciality programs at the first stage level are based on course offerings at each school; they are nationally funded.

A mandatory subject at all minority schools is the national language – Latvian.

Minority education programs

In compliance with the Education Law, the Language Law and the General Education Law, the 1999/2000 academic year will be the start of a transition of minority schools to a true bilingual system. All students in the bilingual system will also receive instruction in the history and culture of their native country. Latvian as a second language will be the major concentration at these schools to facilitate continuing education in Latvian and to successfully integrate these students into Latvian society. Latvian scientists, taking advantage of world wide expertise in the field, have formulated four bilingual educational models. Their main goal is the same: In the basic educational process to acquire Latvian language skills at a level where students can express themselves equally fluently in their native language as well as Latvian, i.e. be truly bilingual. All four programs are to be developed over a period of nine years. The main differences between the four models are quantitative – based on prior training in Latvian and general Latvian language ability, it will be decided how many courses the student can take in Latvian at any particular time.

Curriculum content

Based on educational standards, curricula goals include the following:

The development of general and critical thinking ability;

The development of analytical thinking ability;

The development of logical thought processes, experimental and research projects;

The development of effective self-expression skills;

The development of a personal value system, which is instrumental in becoming a self-confident and responsible member of society.

Studies in Latvian folklore and the folklore of other countries; this helps the student form a strong self-image and identity as part of his nation, his region, to stress the importance of a strong ethnic and Latvian identity; comparative studies in folklore to develop an appreciation of other cultures.

Comparative studies in culture, history and economics, development of strong listening and verbal skills.

Teaching methods

Teaching methods and the educational process are based on an age-appropriate approach. Teachers select methodology based on specific projects and student needs.

The aim of teaching methods is to create a favourable educational environment (includes social, cultural, pedagogic and psychological aspects), which promotes the joy of learning and motivates the student to continue the learning experience.

Integrated education

The first stage of basic education is by and large based on a system of classroom subject hours. Since 1995, schools have experimented with an "Integrated Education" approach; this is an alternative method based on a thematic approach to education in which students and teachers are not restricted by the classroom subject hour framework.

Evaluation of student progress

Student progress in the first stage program is evaluated using a non-graded system. National standards have been established for each subject. If the student has received satisfactory evaluation in all mandatory courses, he may continue studies in the next grade. Parental written request is required for a student to repeat a grade. A student does not receive a special document upon completion of the first stage program.

A satisfactory progress report for each grade is the prerequisite for continuing in the next grade at the same school or at a different facility.

Educational availability –the first stage of basic education

Educational facilities

The first stage of basic education is available at:

Specific first stage schools

Basic schools

Secondary schools

Special education facilities for special needs children

Institutions of social correction, social correction classes

Children who require extended medical care, may take advantage of classes at home, at the hospital or sanatorium.

The first stage education is physically based on a classroom system. Children of similar age are grouped in classes; the number of students in each class is not to exceed 36.

According to Paragraph 24 of the Education Law, the first stage schools may be established by the national government, regional governments and private individuals. A license is required for a school to start operations, accreditation is required within five years of establishment of the facility.

During the 1998/1999 academic year there were 100. The first stage schools in Latvia, 89 of them were nationally or regionally run, 11 of them were privately owned. The mid-90s saw a flurry of intensive first stage activity, but this process slowed considerably by the end of the decade because of demographic and economic factors. The number of the first stage students is often quite small. Thus, in the 1998/1999 academic year there were 7 the first stage schools with an enrolment of 15 at each school. Upkeep of such schools is very costly and it is predicted, that the number of specifically the first stage schools is going to continue to decline over the next years.

Students

In the early 1990s students started basic school at age 6. Since 1994 students start school in the calendar year during which they turn 7. This age regulation is set forth in Paragraph 32, Line 2 of the General Education Law (1999). However, based on the individual child’s health and/or level of psychological development, a child may start school a year earlier or later; parental wishes and medical evaluation are taken into account in making this decision (see Table 11.).

Table 11.

Number of students in the basic first stage

 

1995/96

1996/97

1997/98

1998/99

Grade (1 – 4)

139925

146655

146650

141408

Grade(5 – 6)

63981

57793

63021

70893

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Information and analysis, 1999.

Demographics were strongly affected by the decline in birthrate during the early 1990s. This will result in lower numbers of school age children in the next few years. The educational structures in Latvia may experience drastic changes due to this factor.

Statistics show that the number of children attending first grade differs considerably from the total number of children in this age range. As mentioned above, children start school during the year they turn 7, but it is possible to start school at age 6 or 8. We must remember that there are many children in Latvia, who do not start school at all because of social and economic reasons; there are also children who drop out of school without completing the basic program (Table 12). This situation is discussed in more detail in the subsection "Children outside the system".

Table 12.

Proportion of students enrolled in educational programs compared with total number of students in respective age group

Educational level

 

Age group

1997/98

1998/99

Basic the first stage grades (1 – 4)

7 – 10

91.8 %

88.1%

 

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Educational Development operational data, 1999.

Home schooling

Under certain circumstances, specified by Ministry of Science and Education guidelines, a child of the first stage age and registered at an educational facility, may be home taught. Factors taken into consideration in this decision are the poor health of the child, his inability to productively function in the classroom situation and the inability of the school to fulfill all of the child’s specific needs. The home schooling option may be initiated by the parent, the school or the government.

Children under extended medical care are provided home schooling under the provision of "The order regulating schooling at home, at the hospital or at other medical facilities for the child requiring extended medical care".

Special education for special needs children – the first stage

In order to assure equal educational opportunities for all school age children, different types of educational programs have been established. Special needs children may attend special education facilities or be integrated into regular the first stage classes; programs are specially designed to be ability-appropriate, some special needs children study in individualized programs. More details available in the section "Special education".

Main accomplishments in first stage education 1991 – 1999

The project "Integrated studies –the first stage" was realized in 1998. The project explored the possibility of replacing the traditional classroom subject hour approach with an integrated, thematic approach; emphasis would be on mastery of basic skills such as reading, writing and mathematics.

A non-graded system of the evaluation of student progress was approved for the first stage in 1999. A student’s individual progress and achievements are evaluated in writing, comparing them with the national standard.

Curriculum content guidelines have been established for grades 1 – 4; they also specify methodology. The curricula stress the most meaningful skills such as study skills, research ability, communication skills and similar abilities.

Several alternative textbooks have been produced for all the first stage subjects during the 1990s. To promote effective integration, special emphasis has been placed on textbook production for minority schools during the last few years.

A transition to a true bilingual system at minority schools has been initiated.

11. BASIC EDUCATION – THE SECOND STAGE

Basic education standards and programs

The content of the basic program in Latvia, specifying mandatory subjects, is nationally regulated by the National Standard of Basic Education and the standards of individual subjects. All expected skill levels which are to be achieved by the program as a whole and in specific subjects are set forth in this documentation.

Students and teachers are afforded considerable autonomy as far as sequence of studies, methodology and length of study are concerned. Any program may be supplemented based on the specific interests of the student and regional idiosyncrasies. In this way the teacher develops his or her own program.

In 1998, for the first time in Latvia’s history, a National Standard of Basic Education was formulated; this document specifies the fundamental goals and principles of the Basic program, mandatory subjects, and the process by which student progress is evaluated. The following are the fundamental principles of the basic program:

To promote the harmonious growth and development of each child;

To promote a responsible relationship between the child and himself, his family, his fellow man, his nation and country, mankind and the highest moral values;

To establish a foundation for continuing education;

To assure the level of knowledge and skills demanded by society.

The following are set forth as the major goals of curriculum content reforms:

To assure that the basic curriculum does not consist of purely facts and data

To promote the development of students’ skills such as analytical and critical thought, creative self expression, communication skills and the like

To assure that the curriculum is not purely academic in nature, but reflects practical application of skills as well

To achieve an interdisciplinary balance in order to avoid duplicity and to assure a meaningful interdisciplinary educational experience.

Mandatory subjects are nationally defined. During the 1998/1999 academic year, the following subjects were mandatory in basic education programs:

Latvian

Literature

First foreign language

Second foreign language

History

Social studies:

-Introduction to Economics

-Civics

-Ethics

Mathematics

Computer Education

Health

Biology

Geography

Physics

Chemistry

Music

Visual Arts

Home Economics

Sports

Since the 1998/1999 academic year English has been specified as the first foreign language in basic programs. The choice of second foreign language is not regulated. Minority school students are also required to take Latvian language and literature courses.

Specialities are not clearly defined at the basic level with the exception of schools that specialise in music, foreign language or athletics. Each school sets its own tone and direction of speciality by the electives that it offers. According to the Educational Program Classifier, students may choose from the following mandatory programs:

General basic program;

Special education programs for special needs children;

Minority school basic programs;

Programs of social corrective education.

Programs of study are formulated by individual schools following the guidelines set forth by the Education Laws, the National Standard of Basic Education and the requirements pertaining to mandatory courses.

In order to better rate the quality of all the available programs, educational program licensing has been initiated during the 1999/2000 academic year. The information accumulated during the licensing process will be compiled in the Educational Program Register. This information will be available to the public, thus enabling parents and their children to be better informed about educational choices available to them.

New subjects of study

During the mid-1990s several new subjects were incorporated into the basic program: Introduction to Economics in grade 8, Civics in grade 9, and Computer Education in grade 7. During the 1998/1999 academic year Ethics was added to the grade 7 curriculum on a trial basis. In compliance with the National Standard of Basic Education, a series of social studies courses will be incorporated into the curriculum for grades 1 – 9. The main purpose of this series of courses is to make the student socially and politically more aware, to familiarize the student with the economic and political processes and moral standards of society. The natural sciences will be added to the curriculum of grades 4 – 6 in order to familiarize students with processes in nature, to teach them the skills to do experimental research; emphasis will be on environmental education. Health is becoming a more important course of study, Home Economics courses are being reworked to incorporate household budget and basic economics principles.

The evaluation of student progress

Evaluation of student progress in the second stage of basic school is based on a 10 point system:

10 points: Exceptional

9 points: Excellent

8 points: Very good

7 points: Good

6 points: Above satisfactory

5 points: Satisfactory

4 points: Below satisfactory

3 points: Unsatisfactory

2 points: Poor

1 point : Very poor

Certain subjects are rated as pass/fail.

Promotion

In compliance with the "Regulation pertaining to the acceptance into and promotion at general education facilities and special education facilities and national examinations required in general education", the decision to promote a student or to have the student repeat a grade is based on directives from the school principal. The decision to have a student repeat a grade, based on written parental request, is also reviewed by the pedagogic board at the school. Progress reports at the second stage level are issued twice each year.

The certificate of completion of the basic program gives an individual the right to continue academic or professional studies at the secondary level.

Certification

A student, who has satisfactorily completed the entire course of study in the 9-year Basic program and has satisfactorily completed all required national exams, receives a certificate of completion of the basic program. The student also receives a grade in conduct. A student finishing grade 9 with incomplete subject grades, receives his report card and may take the appropriate examinations during the following year.

Special education facilities award students a certificate of completion upon successful completion of the program.

Availability of the second stage programs

The second stage of the basic program in Latvia is available at the following facilities:

Basic schools with programs for grades 1 – 9

Secondary schools with programs for grades 1 – 12

Pre-schools which may offer incomplete programs for grades 1 – 4 or 6 due to funding problems or inadequate teaching staff

Junior high school programs for grades 7 – 9

Vocational high schools

Special education facilities for special needs students

Institutions for social and pedagogic correction

Table 13.

Number of schools offering complete basic program

Years

1995/96

1996/ 97

1997/98

1998/99

Basic schools

514

530

533

534

Secondary

378

376

380

384

Special education schools

54

55

56

56

Evening schools

38

38

36

37

Pedagogical and social correction institutions

0

1

2

2

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Educational Development operational data, 1999.

Decisions regarding the opening of new educational facilities or the establishment of new classes are made by regional governments based on parental written request (see Table 13).

The role of regional governments in education is set forth in Paragraph 15 of the Law pertaining to Regional Governments:

To assure the rights of its residents to basic and general programs of education

To assure vacancies for all children of pre-school and basic school age

To provide organizational and financial assistance to extra-curricular centres and various educational support centres.

Students

Children start school in the calendar year during which they turn 7. This regulation was set in the General Education Law (1998). A student usually completes the basic program at age 15 or 16 (see Table 14.). The General Education Law states, that if a child has not been able to complete the basic program by this time, he has the right to do so up until the time he turns 18. This provision was added to the education system in Latvia after its ratification of the International Children’s Rights Convention in 1998.

Table 14.

Number of mandatory school age children

Years

Mandatory school age

Length of mandatory education in year

Number of students of mandatory school age in thousands

Percentage of total number of students

1996/97

7 - 15

9

318

62%

1997/98

7 - 15

9

319

60%

Source: LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Information and analysis, 1999.

Individuals who are older than 18 have the opportunity to attend evening classes, take correspondence courses or undertake home study, taking care of examinations without attending lectures.

Institutions of education for students with a criminal history receive students up to age 18 by court decree. Classes are set up based on skill level, resulting in a mix of ages in each class.

Statistics show that the second stage basic programs are attended by a smaller number of students than the total number of students in that age range (see Table 15). This points to the fact that many students drop out of school because of social and economic factors as well as parental disinterest.


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