I. Common topics
54. With regard to some specific issues concerning historical ethnic and national minorities, such as expressions of a separate identity (for example mother tongue education or minority language media) or their participation in public and political life, ECRI refers to the 3rd Opinion of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), which carried out its last visit to Latvia in parallel to ECRI’s visit. The work of both monitoring bodies is based on mutual complementarity. The Advisory Committee also examined the situation of national minorities which are not covered in ECRI’s report.
61. While ECRI does not examine issues concerning the right to use minority languages in education (see § 54 above), it is concerned with aspects of
regulating minority schools that might have an impact on the integration of
minority pupils, such as teaching-standards and educational outcomes. It should be noted that this does not only affect “non-citizens”, as many members of the Russian minority, for example, are Latvian citizens. In addition, persons belonging to minorities originating from other parts of the former USSR might also opt for education in the Russian language for their children. In this respect, legal status, ethnicity and linguistic identity are not necessarily identical.
62. The Latvian authorities plan to make, with effect from 2021 onwards, Latvian the compulsory language of instruction in grades 10-12 across all bi-lingual schools. The only exceptions allowed will be the teaching of minority languages and cultures. In this context, ECRI would like to remind the authorities of the need to ensure that sufficient and adequate training is provided to teachers in minority schools in order to avoid any decrease in the quality of teaching provided to minority children as a result of the envisaged changes.
63. The authorities pointed out to ECRI that they decided to increase the number of subjects to be taught in Latvian in grades 7-9 in bilingual schools to further improve learning of the Latvian language before 2021. They also emphasise that while in 2010, 40% of minority pupils opted for the use of Russian in their exams, this number had fallen to only 8% in 2016, indicating high levels of Latvian language proficiency. In spite of these developments, ECRI encourages the authorities to assess the need for additional Latvian language tuition for minority pupils on an on-going basis in order to avoid them being put at a disadvantage with respect to educational outcomes and school results, which in turn could have
a negative impact on their potential for successful socio-economic integration.
65. In spite of various efforts by the authorities,77 including at local level, to support the education of Roma children, and some progress with regard to enrolment rates of Roma children in previous years,78 overall success has been very limited.79 The 2015 research report on Roma in Latvia revealed the full extent of the dismally low levels (or even complete absence) of formal education among many Roma. Almost half (48.8%) of the surveyed members of the Roma community had not completed compulsory primary school education (which in Latvia extends to the 9th grade), including 8.9% who had never been to school at all and some 30% who only completed less than 7 grades (completion of the 7th grade is the minimum schooling requirement for participation in vocational training courses offered by the State Employment Agency – see § 71 below). A further 34% had only finished primary education, while just 12% finished secondary education.80 These findings point to the urgent need for strong action to tackle the problem of marginalisation of Roma in the field of education, which in turn is a root cause for their high rates of unemployment and related socio-economic exclusion.81
77 Cf. ECRI (2012): § 107.
78 SIF (2015): 45.
79 See for example: Ibid.: 35.
80 Ibid.: 37. – Survey among 365 Roma, which equates to approximately 7% of the registered Roma population in Latvia.
81 Ibid.: 34 and 37
66. In its last report, ECRI reiterated as a matter of priority82 its previous
recommendation to close any remaining special classes for Roma and integrate Roma students into mainstream classes. To facilitate this, ECRI recommended that the authorities reinstate the Roma assistant teachers trained under the previous Plan for Roma and also address the high representation of Roma children in special needs’ schools. In its 2015 interim follow-up conclusions, ECRI noted that progress had been made through the reinstatement of Roma assistant teachers and through the provision of guidance material to teachers on how to better integrate Roma children into mainstream classes. ECRI also noted that further to a recommendation from the Ombudsman in 2013, some local authorities had discontinued separate classes for Roma, but others had not, although negotiations were reportedly underway to change this situation. On the
other hand, however, ECRI was concerned about information indicating that the percentage of Roma children attending special needs schools had actually increased, from 11.6% in 2011 to 16.1% for the academic year 2013-2014 and therefore considered its priority recommendation as partially implemented.83
82 ECRI (2012): § 108.
83 ECRI (2015): 5.
67. During its visit to Latvia in 2017, ECRI did not receive any information about the existence of separate Roma classes anymore, but encourages the authorities to monitor this situation to avoid any reintroduction of such a practice in the future. However, according to figures provided to ECRI by the Ministry of Education and Science, out of a total of 900 Roma pupils enrolled during the school year 2016/17 in Latvia, more than one third (34.2%) were enrolled in special needs programmes. In the Special primary education programme for students with learning disabilities, 22.4% of pupils were Roma children, in spite of the fact that Roma account for less than 1% of the country’s population. In the Special primary education programme for students with mental development disorders, the ratio
is even higher at 39%. ECRI continues to be deeply concerned about the
disproportionately high number of Roma children enrolled in special needs
programmes. In this respect, the authorities informed ECRI that they are in the process of generally integrating children with special needs into mainstream education, which should also benefit Roma children who might be wrongly placed in special needs programmes. However, given the time it will take to implement this strategy and the large number of Roma pupils concerned, ECRI considers that the situation requires urgent measures to address the high representation of Roma children in special needs programmes.
68. With regard to Roma teaching assistants, the Ministry of Education and Science informed ECRI that while four teaching assistants of Roma ethnicity were employed in general education institutions in the school year 2013/2014, there were only two in the 2016/2017 period. At the same time, schools indicated that in the 2017/2018 study year they would require 16 Roma teaching assistants, making the mismatch between needs and existing capacities in this area evident. In addition, ECRI has been informed that Roma mediators currently work in five municipalities in the education sector. Their work is said to have been very useful in increasing school enrolment and decreasing dropout rates among Roma children. However the positions of these mediators are not funded for the long term which could undermine the results that have been achieved so far.
69. ECRI strongly recommends that the Latvian authorities take more effective steps to improve the situation of Roma children in the education sector. The authorities should in particular (i) take immediate action to remedy the situation for Roma pupils who have been wrongly placed in special needs programmes; (ii) ensure that a sufficient number of Roma teaching assistants are employed; and (iii) make the positions of existing Roma mediators permanent and assess if additional mediators are required.
Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f