Amendments to the Education Law prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science provide for a gradual transition to teaching in the state language over three years at all levels of education. The current approach to the language of instruction in minority education programs has not fully ensured the acquisition of a high-quality state language at all stages of education, as well as divided society. In the public debate on the bill, most views were opposed to a complete transition to teaching in the state language in minority schools due to political reasons. The Constitutional Court has concluded that the state has the right and obligation to determine such requirements for the content of general education and the study process in order to ensure the ability of students to use the state language freely. However, most of the opinions submitted against the draft law state that the complete transition to teaching in the Latvian language in minority schools is discriminatory, contrary to the principles of democracy, as well as it will be detrimental to the quality of education and the acquisition of Russian culture. Experts emphasize that education in one language, without separating children, is the best tool for uniting the people of Latvia in the long run and irreversibly.
Studies in the Latvian language at all levels of education will take place in three years from the next school year. Latvian education policy makers have finally completed the decades-long transition to study only in Latvian. However, the current resistance does not promise easy-to-achieve results and the readiness of teachers, students, and the general public to study in Latvian is not guaranteed everywhere. This Latvia Society briefing will set out the public’s concerns about the transition process, which will take place in three years, instead of the previously planned gradual 6-year transition.
I The Law
The Ministry of Education and Science justifies that the state is entitled to set such requirements in the general education standard regarding the content of general education and the learning process that are necessary to ensure that learners are able to use the state language freely. The Constitutional Court has acknowledged that every person who permanently resides in Latvia must know the language of that country, moreover, at a level that allows him or her to fully participate in the life of a democratic society.
The goal of the reform is to implement a sequential transition to teaching in the state language at the pre-school and primary education levels in order to promote the successful implementation of the improved curriculum and approach in all Latvian educational institutions, and at the same time ensure the acquisition of minority languages and cultural history in accordance with the Latvian Constitution and international obligations. The transition to studies in the Latvian language is attributable to 17% of teachers in the pre-school minority education program and the basic education program, as well as 24% of students who study the minority pre-school education program and the minority primary education program.
The regulation stipulates that from 1 September 2023, the educational process will be implemented only in the state language in pre-school education and primary education grades in the 1st, 4th, and 7th grades. From September 1, 2024, only the 2nd, 5th and 8th grade students will start studying in the state language, but from September 1, 2025, the 3rd, 6th, and 9th grades will also join. It should be reminded that at the secondary school level, young people already learn all subjects in Latvian, but 1st – 6th grade students are learning at least 50% of the curriculum, and for 7th to 9th grade students – at least 80%.
The current approach to the language of instruction in minority education programs has not fully ensured the quality acquisition of the state language at all stages of education, but insufficient knowledge of the state language may limit the integration of young people into society and hinder the development of successful professional careers. It is equally important for minority students to learn the state language in order to enable them to participate in public life as effectively as possible and to facilitate their further education.
If children and young people learn the same language during their pre-school to upper secondary education, this provides an important basis for cohesion, common interests, the use of a single information space, and so on. Education in Latvian, without distinguishing children, is the best tool to unite the people of Latvia in the long run and irreversibly, as many believe.
II Minority Schools
There are currently 678 general education schools in Latvia. 77% of them are schools where they study only in Latvian.
A total of 140 schools provide general education in Russian and Latvian. There are both schools with a two-stream system and those with only minority programs, where the Latvian language is now more or less compulsory. In turn, 11 schools offer programs in other languages, such as Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian and others.
A total of 5,520 pupils attend minority schools – they will be affected by these changes. Many more or 58,666 pupils, which is more than 25% of all students in Latvia, choose dual-stream or Latvian-Russian schools, which have both Latvian and minority classes and a more Latvian environment.
III Opinions of the Society
In April, the public discussion of the draft law prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science ended, which lasted from April 8 to 22, collecting several thousand entries. Most of them opposed the adoption of the bill.
Most of the opinions submitted against the draft law state that the complete transition to education in the Latvian language in minority schools is discriminatory, contrary to the principles of democracy, as well as it will be detrimental to the quality of education and the acquisition of Russian culture. It was also pointed out that the adoption of the bill would mean inhumanity, ridicule and experimentation with children, their parents and teachers, and the fight against the Russian language and culture. Some participants expressed more moderate messages calling for the establishment of a free choice of language of instruction in minority educational institutions or maintaining partial education in the mother tongue, while strengthening the acquisition of the Latvian language, as well as providing these schools with suitably qualified teachers.
Proponents of the bill, on the other hand, call for the transition to teaching in the state language in minority schools to be implemented immediately, noting that such a step should have been taken a long time ago. From the point of view of the Latvian-speaking society, it must not be possible that 30 years after the restoration of Latvia as an independent state, the largest cities in Latvia have neighbourhoods whose inhabitants are unable to say even a few sentences in the state language. This group of views is also linked to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but it must be remembered that Russian is not just a language, but an instrument of Russian propaganda and power. Russia has repeatedly threatened to attack to defend Russians in various countries. Therefore, it is a matter of national security to reduce the influence of the Russian language in Latvia and it must be done immediately.
It is important for minority students to learn the state language so that they have the opportunity to participate in public life as effectively as possible and to facilitate their further education. Insufficient knowledge of the state language may limit also the integration of young people into society and hinder the development of successful professional careers. According many experts, if children and young people learn the same language during their pre-primary to upper secondary education, this provides an important basis for cohesion, common interests and the use of a single information space. It is education in one language, without distinguishing children, that is the best tool for uniting the people of Latvia in the long run and irreversibly. New amendments to the Education Law provide for the transition to education only in the Latvian language within 3 years. This will affect more than a quarter of all primary and secondary education students in Latvia, as well as create a need to retrain teachers who have worked in these schools accordingly. The threat posed by Russia is a particularly significant transition to education in the Latvian language. With regard to the Russian language, the arrival of such a large and dense media space as has been in Latvia has always allowed this large part of the so-called minority to maintain very different myths, theories and concepts belonging to the Russian state and the Russian world. If the goal is national development, it is very important that young people in particular have a common history, a single language they understand and a common holiday.
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Original Briefing on the China-CEE Institute website – https://china-cee.eu/2022/06/28/latvia-social-briefing-transition-to-studies-in-the-latvian-language-for-a-more-united-society/
Šo rakstu sagatavoja Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmijas Ekonomikas institūts, tas ir tapis sadarbībā ar China-CEE Institute un ir China-CEE Institute intelektuālais īpašums.
This briefing was written by the Institute of Economics of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with the China-CEE Institute, and is the intellectual property of the China CEE-Institute.