Minority Education in Latvia
Education in national minority languages is a precondition for maintaining the cultural identity of national minorities in Latvia. The Latvian government provides education in eight national minority languages, which is more than in the most European countries.
State-financed education in Latvia is available in eight national minority programmes – Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Hebrew and Romani. Courses in state-financed universities are taught in Latvian, while some private educational institutions have opted for languages other than Latvian as the medium of instruction.
Until the mid-1990s, two different school systems - Russian and Latvian - existed in Latvia, each with its own education programme. When the new language laws came into force in 2000 and the ability to speak Latvian became an integral part of life in both the state and private sectors, it was necessary to create an education system able to provide equal opportunities in the labour and education markets for graduates from both Latvian and national minority schools.
The phasing in of the education reform took place gradually, starting from 1995, and was fully completed in 2007. Only starting from the school year 2007/08, national minority education programmes had been fully introduced from grade 1 to grade 12.
The results of the state centralised examinations for 2009 indicate that the performance in educational institutions implementing an education programme with Latvian as the medium of instruction were similar to that in schools implementing national minority education programmes. The results of centralised examinations clearly suggest that the changes introduced to the national minority education programme with regard to the medium of instruction and the state examinations have not significantly influenced the learning achievements of students.
The education programme for national minority secondary schools was conceptually approved by the National Minority Education Advisory Council, the body established in 2001 to maintain contact between the Ministry of Education, students and teachers of national minority schools, parents and NGOs.
A number of institutions are involved in facilitating minority education: the Society Integration Fund provides funding to promote national minority education and fosters dialogue in society and among national minorities themselves, while the Latvian Language Agency (LLA) runs seminars, discussions and conferences on the issues of education, organises courses on bilingual education for teachers, elaborates and publishes teaching aids and methodology materials.
International organisations and their officials have evaluated positively the education reform in Latvia. In 2011, during the working visit to Latvia by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaeck, the topics for discussion were a number of issues regarding national minority education.
The Latvian Language Agency and the Centre for Civil Integration and Inter-Ethnic Relations (CCIIR) successfully cooperate in the field of bilingual education and strengthening the official language in the educational system.