Riga Education, Youth and Sports Department 2005 Yearbook (excerpt), 2006

6. The course of the education reform in ethnic minority schools

In the spring of 2005, the first academic year of the education reform, being implemented over all the country, has ended. The reform entails that pupils of grade 10 of ethnic minority secondary schools use Latvian language in acquisition of subjects wider than before. In order to summarise the results of the academic year and to discuss problems and their solutions, the department has organised a conference for heads and teachers of ethnic minority educational institutions on June 15, 2005, “Learning process in grade 10 of ethnic minority secondary schools – creative experience and problems”.

6.1. Focus group discussions with history and math teachers of ethnic minority schools of Riga

In order to study the course of the education reform in ethnic minority schools, a sociological study has been conducted in March and April, 2005. [It was a series of] focus group discussions with history and math teachers of ethnic minority schools of Riga, who teach their subjects in Latvian. The objects of the study were the opinions of teachers of Riga ethnic minority schools on the course of the education reform and its impact on youth identity and participation. The main themes:

  • teaching the respective subjects in Latvian – an evaluation from the point of view of teaching a subject and an evaluation of pupils’ performance and learning process;
  • the preparedness of the reform and its further development.

As a result of the discussion, it was found out:

  • common difficulties of teachers of various subjects, arising when teaching in Latvian:
    • translation and clarifying the subject in two languages during a lesson takes more time than teaching in one language;
    • different level of Latvian skills in the classroom forces to tailor oneself to the average level, forces to teach the subject in a simplified way.
  • difficulties in teaching mathematics:
    • certain mathematical themes, difficult to grasp in a native tongue, are even more difficult to grasp in Latvian;
    • pupils connect not understanding mathematical tasks with insufficient command of Latvian. This strengthens resentment to both subject: mathematics and Latvian;
    • due to the use of two languages pupils sometimes are not able to connect the same terms learned in Latvian and in Russian;
    • teachers sometimes have difficulties with precise translation of mathematical terms to Latvian and their correct pronunciation;
    • lessons are not as interesting as in the mother tongue, due to lack of time, it’s impossible to engage all the pupils.
  • changes in history lessons, when teaching in Latvian:
  • teachers use less visual means. In order for pupils to remember terms, they write on boards;
  • the teacher speaks more during the lesson, because pupils less engage in discussions;
  • one cannot connect the content acquired with the experiences of pupils and their families, because pupils cannot speak about it in Latvian.

Pupils with good knowledge of the subject, but not as good one of Latvian language, speak less during the lessons, because they are afraid to make mistakes; pupils’ level of performance falls, because one does also evaluate knowledge of Latvian language.

During the discussion, teachers have also spoken about learning materials. Terminological dictionaries are needed; education standards change more rapidly than textbooks get prepared. Maths teachers note lack of guidance materials and not really knowing where to search for them. History teachers, in turn, consider that the history textbook for grade 10 is complicated for pupils and written in an academic style.

At the end of the discussion the teachers have stresses that in learning a language, positive motivation is crucial, which is exactly what gets undermined in pupils by the top-down style of the reform. Therefore the teachers will follow the course of the reform, analyzing results and pupils’ performance.

Recommendations by the participants of the focus group discussions:

  • a slower pace of the reform;
  • a greater stress on the bilingual education;
  • adding more lessons for the subjects learned in Latvia;
  • involving teachers in creation of learning materials.

The study has been presented at the conference “Learning process in grade 10 of ethnic minority secondary schools – creative experience and problems”.

6.2. A survey of pupils “Problems and successes, acquiring subjects in Latvian in grade 10”

In February, 2005, a survey of pupils has been conducted in grade 10 in ethnic minority schools of Zemgale Suburb. The aim of the survey was to discern pupils’ feelings and causes of problems, arising when learning certain subjects in Latvian. 286 pupils of grade 10 of ethnic minority schools, from Riga 61st secondary school, Riga 53rd secondary school, Riga 95th secondary school, Riga Zolitude Gymnasium and Riga Sampeteris secondary school, took part in the survey. The survey has shown that the subjects most difficult to learn in Latvian are geometry, history, biology and geography. 57 % of pupils consider that if one learns subject bilingually in the basic school, it helps to prepare for learning them in Latvian in the secondary school; 22 % consider that it creates hindrance, and 21 % find it difficult to tell. Pupils have also expressed an opinion on what hinders successful learning the subjects in Latvian. 40 % of pupils consider that they have insufficient command of Latvian, 17 % – that teachers have insufficient command of Latvian, 16 % – that quality learning materials are lacking, and 10 % of pupils consider they do not know the terminology. The survey has shown pupils’ feelings, when learning certain subjects in Latvian. 13 % of pupils feel confident; 56 % of pupils consider that they have difficulties, learning certain subjects in Latvian, but they get over, 31 % of pupils, in turn, feel anxious and unconfident. When learning certain subjects in Latvian, 36 % of pupils receive help and support from teachers, 5 % from parents and friends, 4 % of pupils take additional lessons of Latvian.

The students have indicated in the survey, what kind of support they would like to receive both from subject teachers and from Latvian language teachers.

32 % of pupils consider that their knowledge has worsened when learning certain subjects in Latvian, 26 % – that it has improved, for 23 % the knowledge has not changed and 19 % of pupils have found it difficult to answer.

In the view of the pupils, further opportunities of using Latvian are in further education and career-building. There are also such pupils (6 %), who consider that Latvian language is not of use anywhere at all.

After the survey conducted, the following recommendations have been expressed:

  • to spare time for improving understanding the terminology during subject-lessons taught in Latvian, in order to ensure the principle of scientific approach to a subject;
  • to indicate additional literature on a given topic in both languages;
  • to share additional information given by teachers as handouts to pupils;
  • to improve pupils’ skills in working with texts, to teach to analyse and to stress the most important facts;
  • for school administration, to promote improving Latvian language skills of subject teachers;
  • to dispel the lack of confidence of pupils and teachers to the education reform launched, by positive examples.

The study has been presented at the conference “Learning process in grade 10 of ethnic minority secondary schools – creative experience and problems”.

Document data: published in 2006. ISBN 9984-9791-2-1 Link: http://www.sus.lv/sites/default/files/media/faili/gadagramata_2005.pdf , in Latvian. Most of the present excerpt is also available in an unofficial Russian translation athttp://www.rusojuz.lv/ru/archive/2006/16074-/

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