On Thursday, 22 March, the Saeima in the third and final reading supported amendments to the Education Law and the General Education Law, regarding the transition to Latvian as the only language of instruction in general secondary education. The transition will be gradual, to be completed by school year 2021/2022.
“Having the official language as the language of instruction is an important prerequisite for ensuring equal opportunities to all youths. This is a matter of language skills, as well as social cohesion. The transition should have taken place long ago, in the 1990s; and today we should not be discussing the need for the transition, but rather focus on the practical aspects of the initiative,” said Aldis Adamovičs, Chair of the Education, Culture and Science Committee.
Adamovičs emphasised that the transition should not be perceived as a threat to the identity of ethnic minorities, since it in not the intention of the amendments to deprive children of their native language, and schools will continue to offer courses on minority literature, culture and language.
“The keyword here is cooperation; we must not give in to emotions and prejudices which may needlessly escalate the situation and divide the society. Some schools have already introduced Latvian as the main language of instruction; furthermore, the transition period of more than two years is sufficient to make relevant adjustments, including improving language skills,” said Adamovičs.
According to the amendments initiated by the Ministry of Education and Science, in minority education programmes at least 50% of classes must be held in Latvian in 1st-6th grade, while in 7th-9th grade - 80% of all classes.
In secondary schools Latvian is universally introduced as the only language of instruction, while ensuring that schools may offer minority language classes and other subjects related to minority identity and integration in Latvian society.
The newly adopted requirements regarding the language of instruction in 1st-7th grade will come into effect on 1 September 2019; in grades 8, 10 and 11 on 1 September 2020; and n grades 9 and 12 – on 1 September 2021.
Special support measures for educators are underway to ensure a smooth transition. Kārlis Šadurskis, Minister of Education, had previously underlined in a Committee meeting that special emphasis must be put on the language skills development among pre-school educators.
The amendments also set forth that no later than three years after the implementation of the reform the Ministry of Education and Science must commission an independent, scientific research and evidence-based evaluation of the reform’s impact on the quality of educational achievements.
According to the results of the survey “Language situation in Latvia: 2010-2015”, 39% of minority youth in Latvia possess the highest level of Latvian language skills; with a similar percentage of youths having a medium level of Latvian language skills. However, 22% have admitted that their command of Latvian is rather basic or even poor. The survey also revealed that the majority of the Latvian population (approximately 70%) believe that Latvian as the instruction language should be introduced as early as possible – in pre-school and primary school.
Saeima Press Service