As part of a stepped national drive to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in all schools, for this school year, years 1, 4, and 7 of minority schools must start learning in Latvian only; years 2 and 5 next year; and years 3, 6 and 9 the year after that.
Changes affect 129 schools, 43,000 pupils and approximately 4,000 teachers.
7th-grade students at of Liepāja Secondary School No. 3 are in a Spanish lesson when TV Kurzeme visits. The learning process is slower because of the need to find an individual approach for each pupil, English and Spanish teacher Tatjana Averčenko confirmed.
“Children have difficulties because they have foreign languages and also Latvian. So I have to work. I have to translate everything for them in Latvian, of course, there are difficulties in translating. Some understand right away, some need to explain with other words too,“ the teacher told TV Kurzeme.
School management said that grade 7 students most often need additional explanations regarding language barriers in mathematics, but in grade 4, one in five pupils has difficulties with the Latvian language.
Principal Galina Skorobogatova explained that 4th-grade students are studying with an assistant teacher after classes and 7th-grade students will do so too.
In turn, Liepāja 7th Secondary School offers special consultations are provided to students who have difficulties with Latvian. Posters with various Latvian words are placed in the corridors.
Pāvels Jurs, the school's principal, said that if someone naively believes everything will happen within a heartbeat, they are in for a surprise: "The complications come from moments when a child doesn't understand. Of course, then he asks that question in his native language. He doesn't understand. The teacher can then explain in his mother tongue, then switch back to Latvian accordingly."
Meanwhile, the experience of students surveyed by TV Kurzeme, learning only in Latvian, varies.
Vladimirs: “I've had a hard time writing a narrative, for example, then I have a lot of difficulties in the grammar of the Latvian language.”
Bogdans: “Very well! For me, Latvian is the favorite subject. All is fine for me. I speak Russian to my family, but if I have a girlfriend, for example, I speak Latvian to her.”
The Ministry of Education and Science (IZM) has not received complaints regarding learning in the official language. The Ministry has allocated additional funding to children studying in minority programs to provide assistant teachers, speech therapists, and after-class tutorials.
Olita Arkle, senior expert at IZM, said information from schools indicates that the biggest challenges could be in the first grade, where students with different Latvian language skills start after preschool. “Then, of course, more support and adaptation time is needed,” Arkle said.
The IZM plans to meet with preschool educators next month, as well as the advisory board, to discuss the first results of the change.
As reported numerous times by LSM, a gradual transition to teaching in Latvian language only has been initiated this year in Latvia. This school year, schools which previously taught in both Latvian and Russian are teaching years 1, 4, and 7 in Latvian only.
In September 2022, the Saeima supported a gradual transition to teaching only in the official state language at the general education and pre-school level over three years. The Education Ministry has previously indicated that the changes affect 17% of teachers and 24% of pupils in pre-primary and primary education.
From September 1, 2023, pre-primary education will only be carried out in the official language. Accordingly, a minority pre-primary education program and a minority special pre-primary education program will no longer be implemented.
The changes concern both local government and private preschools and kindergartens.
In primary education, the transition will be gradual:
- from September 1, 2023, education will be fully in the official language for years 1, 4, and 7;
- from September 1, 2024, for years 2, 5, and 8;
- from September 1, 2025, for years 3, 6, and 9.
In vocational education institutions, the teaching language will be narrowed to languages of the European Union.