FCNM Advisory Committee 3rd opinion on Latvia (excerpts on education)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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A large number of schools offering instruction in minority languages continue to operate in Latvia, and the proportion of children studying national minority programmes has remained stable in the last decade, at over 25% of the total number of children. Schools using lesser-spoken national minority languages, such as Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian, receive increased subsidies on account of higher costs. Notwithstanding these positive steps, measures have been taken to increase the use of Latvian in teaching in schools using national minority languages as languages of instruction. All students, including those who have studied in national minority programmes, are obliged to sit centralised exams in a large variety of subjects in the Latvian language. Plans to narrow the scope of national minority language teaching in grades 7 to 9 to 20% of lesson hours within a week and in grades 10 to 12 only to lessons of minority languages and ethno-cultural subjects are of particular concern. “Loyalty clauses” for teachers and school directors introduced in 2015 and 2016 into the Education Law create a climate of suspicion and apprehension, which is not conducive to building trust among different segments of society.

Roma continue to face serious and entrenched difficulties and discrimination, in particular with regard to access to housing, employment, health-services and education (..)

I. MAIN FINDINGS

22. Policies designed to provide persons belonging to national minorities with opportunities for minority language instruction have continued to be pursued. The proportion of children studying in national minority programmes has remained stable in the last decade, at over 25% of the total number of children. Financial support for such initiatives, based on the ‘money follows student’ principle, guarantees the equal treatment of all schools regardless of whether they are public or private. Funding for schools teaching bilingually in Latvian and Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish or Ukrainian has been increased to take into account higher costs incurred by schools with small numbers of students learning less spoken languages in Latvia, as well as the higher cost of acquiring teaching and learning materials and of training qualified teachers.

23. The authorities have taken measures to increase the use of the Latvian language in teaching in schools with instruction in national minority languages. Starting with the 2017-2018 school year, all students, including those who had studied in national minority programmes, are obliged to sit centralised exams in subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, information technology, geography and economics in the Latvian language. Children taking grade nine exams no longer benefit from having a choice of language in which to take their exams. Plans to reduce the scope of national minority language teaching to 20% of lesson hours per week by the 2020/2021 school year in grades 7 to 9 and to reduce teaching only to lessons of minorities’ own languages and ethno-cultural subjects in grades 10 to 12 are of particular concern. Moreover, the 2015-2016 amendments to the Education Law which introduced “loyalty clauses” for teachers and school directors create a climate of suspicion and apprehension, which is not conducive to building trust among different segments of society.

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II. ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE FINDINGS

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Article 12 of the Framework Convention

Equal access to education and intercultural content

Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring

132. The Advisory Committee invited the authorities to enhance the intercultural content of education at all schools, including through the introduction of integrated and multilingual education methodologies and the promotion of a supportive environment for diversity. It further called on the authorities to ensure that education material in sufficient quantity and quality is available in minority language schools and teachers are adequately trained, including as regards the teaching of non-philological subjects in minority languages.

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Present situation

134. Building upon prior experience, in particular on the social sciences curriculum developed in 2004 in the framework of the joint project of the Ministry of Education and Science and the World Bank, the authorities developed in 2013–2014 new national primary education and secondary education standards, including such topics as tolerance, respect towards difference and cross-cultural education, which have been integrated in the content of several subjects of both primary and secondary education. The Advisory Committee notes, however, that according to the Expert Group for Social Cohesion working under the auspices of the Presidential Advisory Council, the main focus is on ensuring knowledge of the Latvian language, whilst developing a political culture of co-habitation necessary in a multicultural society is not given adequate attention.90

Footnote 90 Report of the Expert Group for Social Cohesion, p. 16, available (in Latvian) at https://www.president.lv/images/modules/items/PDF/Sab_saliedetiba_Zinojums_nov2016.pdf.

135. The Expert Group recommended that an in-depth study on the teaching of history at primary and secondary level education establishments also be carried out in order to ascertain “the risks and opportunities related to the teaching of this subject, including a review of the content load of the learning programmes.” 91 This recommendation, albeit indirectly, confirms the need for a review of the history curriculum with a view to increasing public awareness of the history and cultural heritage of the various ethnic and religious groups living in Latvia, including through appropriate multi-perspective teaching of history of national minorities.

Footnote 91 Ibid., p. 22.

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Article 14 of the Framework Convention

Teaching in and of minority languages

Recommendations from the two previous cycles of monitoring

146. The Advisory Committee called on the authorities to continue their efforts to provide high quality education in minority languages, including at pre-school level. It also invited the authorities to consult closely with representatives of minority communities, including parents, to ensure that their interests and concerns with regard to languages of instruction and supervision of quality standards in minority language schools are effectively taken into account.

Present situation

147. The Advisory Committee notes with satisfaction the continued efforts of the authorities to provide persons belonging to national minorities with opportunities for minority language instruction. In the 2016/2017 school year, among 763 general education day schools, 161 provided the teaching content bilingually (the national minority education programmes), of which 94 schools in Russian, four schools in Polish, one school in Ukrainian, one school in Belarusian. A further 57 schools offered both Latvian and the national minority education programmes (“dual stream schools”). Children acquiring education bilingually numbered 60 248 in the 2016/2017 school year (constituting 28.03% of the total number of students).

148. The number of children receiving education in Latvia has been dropping in recent years following a general negative demographic trend. Whereas in 2006, 71 881 children attended general education schools, in 2010 their number decreased to 58 094 and in 2015 to 57 400. The proportion of children studying national minority programmes has remained stable (respectively 27.1%, 26.9% and 28.4%). In this context, the Advisory Committee notes that in October 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted new regulations on criteria for accepting pupils to general education schools.104 The minimum number of children required to form a
secondary school class was increased. In accordance with the new regulations, depending on the municipality, the minimum number varies between 12 and 22 children. As a result the number of schools in Latvia decreased from 805 in 2011 to 774 in 2015. 105 Schools where the Russian language is used as a language of instruction have been affected proportionately, with their number decreasing from 99 in 2011 to 94 in 2015.106 The number of dual stream schools diminished in the corresponding period from 65 to 60. The reduction in the number of schools where the Russian language is used as a language of instruction had particularly negative consequences on the availability of Russian language learning in rural regions with a relatively small national minority population. The Advisory Committee notes with concern that further mergers and closures of schools are being considered. It is particularly worried by proposals made in a study commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Science for the optimisation of a high schools network.107 In particular, according to this study, the number of high schools in Riga could be reduced from 82 to 43, reducing the accessibility of schools teaching in Russian as a national minority language in some districts.

Footnote 104 Cabinet Regulation No. 591 of 13.10.2015. on the order and criteria for accepting pupils to general education schools and special kindergartens, expelling them and requirements for passing to a next grade (Kārtība un kritēriji, kādā izglītojamie tiek uzņemti vispārējās izglītības iestādēs un speciālajās pirmsskolas izglītības grupās un atskaitīti no tām, un obligātās prasības pārcelšanai uz nākamo klasi).

Footnote 105 In 2002, there were 1 010 schools in Latvia, in 2009 – 838, in 2011 – 805, and in 2015 – 774.

Footnote 106 In 2002, there were 166 schools teaching in Russian (as a national minority language) in Latvia, in 2009 – 114, in 2011 – 99, and in 2015 – 94.

Footnote 107 Model for Establishment of an Optimal Network of General Education Institutions in Latvia (“Optimālā vispārējās izglītības iestāžu tīkla modeļa izveide Latvijā”), available (in Latvian) at http://www.izm.gov.lv/images/izglitiba_visp/download/Optimala-visparejas-izglitibas-iestazu-tikla-modelaizveide-Latvija.pdf; a map of reforms for Riga school network, available at http://www.izm.gov.lv/images/aktualitates/2017/Vidusskolenu_izv_Rigas_sk-min.pdf.

149. The Advisory Committee recalls that starting with the 2008/2009 school year, children in grade ten, and since 2010/2011 children in grade 12, in all schools learn Latvian language and literature according to the same, uniform curriculum. Since 2012 all students are required to pass the uniform centralised exam in Latvian language and literature.108 It notes that the average level of achievement of children who had followed national minorities educational programmes has been attained by 52.8% those taking these exams, a figure significantly lower than 60% for all students overall.109 The Advisory Committee notes further that average exam scores in schools with the Latvian as the language of instruction are significantly higher than those using national minority languages, particularly as regards grade 12 centralised exams. This difference is due in particular to a lower score in the Latvian language exam schools where national minorities educational programmes are taught. In contrast, children in such schools achieve significantly higher exam scores in mathematics.110

Footnote 108 Other centralised exams include mathematics, a foreign language, chemistry, biology, physics, information technology, geography and economics (see: “General Secondary Education in Latvia”, available at
http://visc.gov.lv/en/exam/gse_in_latvia.pdf).

Footnote 109 See Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “Combined sixth to twelfth periodic reports submitted by Latvia under article 9 of the Convention, due in 2007”, p. 20, 10 November 2017, available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2FC%2FLVA%2F6-12&Lang=en.

Footnote 110 See Olegs Krasnopjorovs, Why Is Education Performance So Different Across Latvian Schools?”, p. 12, available at https://www.bank.lv/images/stories/pielikumi/publikacijas/petijumi/wp_3-2017_en.pdf.

150. The Advisory Committee notes that until 2017, when taking State exams in grade 12, children were allowed to respond in Latvian or in a national minority language. In recent years the number of children choosing to respond in Latvian has been rising. According to the information provided by the State report, 111 whereas in 2013 72% of children chose to respond in Latvian, in 2015 this number has risen to 79% and in 2017 to 93%. The average results of centralised exams for students who had studied in national minority programmes have been improving in mathematics, history and biology. The Advisory Committee has even been informed by interlocutors it met during the visit about the greater employability of graduates of schools using a national minority language as a language of instruction. Given this positive trend, the Advisory Committee regrets that on 8 August 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers approved amendments to regulations on the procedure for centralised (Regulation No. 335 of 2010) and other (Regulation No. 1510 of 2013) state exams.112 These amendments introduce an obligation for all students, including those who had studied in national minority programmes, to respond to exam questions in the Latvian language. Additionally, children taking grade 9 exams will no longer benefit from having a choice of language in which the
tasks are presented. Whereas for non-centralised exams, the rules provide for a transitional period (until September 2019), centralised examinations have taken effect from the 2017/2018 school year.

Footnote 111 See State report, p. 39.

Footnote 112 Draft documents No VSS-619, VSS-620, State secretaries’ meetings protocol, paras. 15-16, available at
http://tap.mk.gov.lv/mk/vsssanaksmes/saraksts/protokols/?protokols=2017-06-08 (in Latvian)

151. In accordance with Section 41 of the Education Law113 schools teaching in a bilingual format may select one of five models providing for different proportions of teaching of subjects: in Latvian, in the language of the minority and bilingually. In all types of schools in grades 7 to 9, the proportion of subjects taught in a national minority language or bilingually (in Latvian and a national minority language) shall not exceed 40% of the total weekly lesson load. Following the adoption of the Cabinet of Ministers Regulation of 21 May 2013 Regarding the State General Secondary Education Standard not fewer than five subjects are to be taught in the Latvian language (in addition to Latvian language and literature). The Advisory Committee notes with grave concern the recent endorsement by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Ministry of Education and Science of plans to reduce the scope of national minority languages teaching by 2020/2021 school year. According to these plans, teaching in languages in grades 7 to 9 would be lowered to 20% of lesson hours within a week and in grades 10–12 all teaching, except the lessons of minority languages and ethno-cultural subjects, would be taught in Latvian.114

Footnote 113 Education Law, adopted on 29 October 1998 (with amendments) available (in English) at
http://www.vvc.gov.lv/export/sites/default/docs/LRTA/Citi/Education_Law.doc.

Footnote 114 Baltic News Network, “Riga Mayor criticizes Latvian government’s plans for national minority schools”, available at http://bnn-news.com/riga-mayor-criticizes-latvian-government-s-plans-for-national-minority-schools176952

152. The matter has raised significant concern throughout society in Latvia, and in particular among persons belonging to the Russian minority. The Advisory Committee notes in this context that three different petitions to the Saeima have been launched in recent months. The first, proposing to retain the current model of bilingual education, gathered more than 11 000 signatures in less than three weeks.115 Another petition aiming to ensure free choice of languages of instruction was suspended by the service providers within days of being launched by the ManaBalss.lv, a social initiative platform hosting it, over “doubts on the constitutionality” of the petition. Later, the portal decided not to resume the collection of signatures, referring to its rights not to support “questionable initiatives which might endanger state security, are related to changing the nucleus of the Constitution and are, in this case, in contradiction to the principle of promoting social cohesion.” 116 The third petition which proposed restoring the system of minority schools linked with cultural autonomy institutions analogous to those having existed in Latvia in 1919–1934 was also suspended on similar grounds within days of being launched.117 The Advisory Committee considers that steps to improve command of the Latvian language among children studying in national minority languages are to be welcomed. It is of the opinion, however, that any measures taken should not be detrimental to the schools’ role of conveying essential elements of national minority identities, including culture, traditions and cultural heritage.

Footnote 115 “Rules of Procedure of the Saeima” Article 131 provides that “at least 10,000 citizens of Latvia who shall have reached the age of 16 on the day of filing a submission have a right to file a collective submission with the Saeima”. Collective submission might be submitted electronically (“a collective submission that is filed electronically shall be supplemented with technical information confirming the signing of the collective submission and ensuring the possibility to verify the number of signatories, their names, surnames and ID numbers”); available at http://www.saeima.lv/en/legislation/rules-of-procedure.

Footnote 116 Delfi.lv, “Manabals suspended the petition on the choice of language of instruction”, available (in Russian) at
http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/manabalsslv-ubral-iniciativu-o-vybore-yazyka-obucheniya-obeschaet-nepublikovat-antikonstitucionnye-predlozheniya.d?id=49463347.

Footnote 117 Delfi.lv, Sadurskis: proposal for authonomy of Russian Schools absolutely unconstitutional (Шадурскис: предложение об автономии русских школ — абсолютно антиконституционное) http://rus.delfi.lv/news/daily/latvia/shadurskis-predlozhenie-ob-avtonomii-russkih-shkolabsolyutno-antikonstitucionnoe.d?id=49459815;
http://www.tvnet.lv/zinas/viedokli/703240-
sadurskis_aicinajums_nodrosinat_krievu_skolu_autonomiju_ir_absoluti_antikonstitucionals.

153. In accordance with bilateral agreements, support to minority schools is provided by Belarus, Estonia, Israel, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, assisting with teaching aids, the organisation of student summer camps, and the participation of guest teachers and renovation of school buildings (see Article 18). For example, the funding for the renovation and refurbishment of the Józef Piłsudski General Education School (grades 1 to 12) was shared in equal proportions by the Latvian authorities and a Polish Foundation “Wspólnota Polska.” Textbooks and other teaching and learning materials approved for use in schools in Poland, by the virtue of bilateral agreement, may be used in Latvian schools where the Polish language is used as a language of instruction. The Advisory Committee also notes that guest teachers from Poland are authorised to work in such schools and their number has varied between 8 and 12 in the years 2012–2017. Furthermore, funding for schools teaching bilingually in Latvian and Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish or Ukrainian has, since September 2017, been increased, by 30%, following the decision of the Minister of Education, to take into account the higher costs of acquiring teaching and learning materials and of the training of qualified teachers incurred by schools with small numbers of students learning less spoken languages.118

Footnote 118 Amendment of 27 September 2016 to the Education Law delegated authority to the Ministry of Education and Science to allocate larger funds to the implementation of programmes for national minority education. Education Law was amended to say that, in order to promote the learning of national minorities’ ethnic culture, the state can provide additional financing to select educational establishments. These establishments must be carrying out minority education programmes based on the bilateral and multilateral international agreements, in which the number of minority students does not exceed 5% of the whole number of students studying in minority study programmes. Consequently, as of the 2016/2017 school year the following establishments, which carry out minority education programmes guaranteed by bilateral and multilateral international agreements, receive additional financing: State Polish Grammar School of Rēzekne – 526 children, J. Piłsudski State Polish Grammar School of Daugavpils – 349 children, Ita Kozakēviča’s Polish Secondary School of Riga – 296 children, Count Plāters’ Polish Primary School of Krāslava – 57 children, Riga Ukrainian Secondary School – 312 children, Šimons Dubnovs’ Jewish Secondary School of Riga – 299 children, Riga Lithuanian Secondary School – 383 children, (Riga Estonian Primary School – 179 children, Janka Kupala’s Belarusian Primary School of Riga – 167.

Recommendations

154. The Advisory Committee reiterates its call on the authorities to ensure the continued availability of teaching and learning in and of languages of national minorities throughout the country to meet existing demand.

155. The Advisory Committee also invites the authorities to consult closely with representatives of national minorities, including parents, to ensure that their interests and concerns with regard to languages of instruction and of examinations in schools using national minority languages as languages of instruction are effectively taken into account.

156. The authorities are asked to continue their endeavours to ensure an appropriate bilingual curriculum at the level of pre-school education and provide adequate funding for quality teaching of the Latvian language in pre-schools. Methodological support to teachers must be ensured in the fields of bilingual education as well as of language and content integrated learning.

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III. CONCLUSIONS

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Positive developments following three cycles of monitoring

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193. Sustained efforts have continued to provide persons belonging to national minorities with opportunities for minority language instruction. The proportion of children studying national minority programmes has remained stable in the last decade, at over 25% of the total number of children. There are no obstacles in Latvia to setting up private schools and a number of faith-based and civic organisations of national minorities make use of such possibilities.

194. Funding for schools teaching bilingually in Latvian and Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish or Ukrainian has, since September 2017, been increased to take into account the higher costs incurred by schools with small numbers of students learning less spoken languages in Latvia, and the higher cost of acquiring teaching and learning materials and training qualified teachers. On the basis of bilateral agreements signed with a number of countries, textbooks and other teaching and learning materials from abroad can be used in schools in Latvia and guest teachers are authorised to work in such schools.

Issues of concern following three cycles of monitoring

195. Society in Latvia continues to struggle with the consequences of past divisions, with the principal national groups – the Latvian majority and the Russian minority – holding different geopolitical viewpoints and cultural identities. Persons belonging to each of these groups have significantly different perceptions of history and of the State in which they would wish to live. Attempts to create a cohesive society based on civic identity have not advanced significantly in recent years. Cases of inflammatory statements by public figures have not led to the authorities taking sufficient action, creating an impression of impunity and ambivalence, thus affecting negatively the interethnic climate. Restrictive policies and other pressures driven by a political agenda, rather than evidence-based decision-making, are particularly evident in the education system, the media, and with regard to the use of national minority languages in many areas of public life.

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200. Schools using national minority languages have come under increased pressure to increase the use of the Latvian language in teaching. As of the 2017–2018 school year, all students, including those who had studied in national minority programmes, are obliged to sit the centralised exams in subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, information technology, geography and economics, in the Latvian language. Additionally, children taking grade 9 exams no longer benefit from having a choice of language in which the tasks are presented. Plans to reduce the scope of national minority language teaching to 20% of lesson hours per week by the 2020/2021 school year in grades 7 to 9 and to reduce teaching only to lessons of minorities’ own languages and ethno-cultural subjects in grades 10 to 12 are of particular concern. Furthermore, the introduction in 2015–2016 of “loyalty clauses” for teachers and school directors creates a climate of suspicion and apprehension, which is not conducive to the building of trust among different segments of society.

Recommendations

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Issues for immediate action

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ensure the continued availability of teaching and learning in languages of national minorities throughout the country with a view to meeting existing demand; representatives of national minorities, including parents, should be consulted closely to ensure that their interests and concerns with regard to languages of instruction in minority language schools are effectively taken into account;


Document data: ACFC/OP/III(2018)001; adopted 23.02.2018, published 15.10.2018 Link: https://rm.coe.int/revised-version-of-the-english-language-version-of-the-opinion/1680901e79 Also available in Latvian: https://rm.coe.int/3rd-op-latvia-latvian/16808d91ab

Publisher’s note: for education-relevant issues, see also exceprts on specific themes, such as language learning, Roma, and reprisals.

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