HCNM letter to the Parliament’s Speaker on pre-schools, 2020

Dear Speaker,

I took note that on 22 January draft law No. 407/Lp13, “Amendment to the General Education Law” was supported by the Saeima’s Education, Culture and Science Committee for the second reading. Prior to the consideration of the draft law by the Saeima next month, please allow me to share some consideration, given the salience of the issue of education for the integration of Latvia’s diverse society and for Latvia’s bilateral relations.

AsI have underlined in all my engagements with the authorities of Latvia, I support the important role that knowledge of the State language plays in promoting the integration of society. In this regard, I understand that the reform in the preschool education system is aimed at ensuring that minority children gain a basic knowledge of the Latvian language. At the same time, the current wording of the draft law, which obliges all municipal kindergartens, including those with Russian as a language of instruction, to open a Latvian language group, may result in a reduction of learning opportunities for pupils of a minority background.

In this regard, I encourage you to consider including safeguards to enable pupils of a minority background to continue receiving preschool education in their mother tongue, if their parents so choose. I suggest, for example, including a provision that requires a municipality to provide the acquisition of pre-school education programmes in a national minority language in pre-school educational institutions within its territory, should there be sufficient demand. This is in line with my institution’s The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities, which advise that “The first years of education are of pivotal importance in a child’s development. Educational research suggests that the medium of teaching at pre-school and kindergarten levels should ideally be the child’s language. Wherever possible, States should create conditions enabling parents to avail themselves of this option.

More generally, in the experience of my institution, any policy or legislative development that may have an impact on minority communities should be developed through effective communication and consultations with all groups concerned to avoid misunderstandings. Likewise, the introduction of the reforms should be approached in a gradual way, while ensuring that the sufficient number of bilingual teachers are trained and available for kindergartens.

My office remains at the disposal of the authorities of Latvia to provide expertise that may be required on the above matters.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Document data: 30.01.2020. Also sent to the foreign ministry. Available in Latvian and English at: https://titania.saeima.lv/LIVS13/saeimalivs13.nsf/0/C1C551C2C2ADCCF1C22585040051641D?OpenDocument Additional links: https://www.facebook.com/igor.pimenov.latvia/posts/2590769637687732 & https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2009192379226384

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