As reported earlier by LSM, a law was recently approved that primary education in Latvia would transition to the state language only. 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.
Riga 40th High School, which used to be a Russian-speaking school, is one of those which must transition. Principal Jelena Vediščeva supports this reform and believes it should have been done 30 years ago. She said she had been lucky to learn at the Skrīveri school, where there were Latvian and Russian students and mutual friendships, so her Latvian language is perfect. But for students who grew up only in a Russian-speaking environment, it is not. Most importantly, it is not perfect for teachers who will have to read classes in the official language in the next school year.
"It is mostly elderly people who are concerned because they are generally perceiving everything more intensely at the moment. We have 16 teachers-pensioners in the school. And one pensioner said that if a commission comes to us, she would file her resignation on the same day. I said, but you speak Latvian, you have no reason to worry. She said, but I can't bear any more checks," the principal said.
Asked what the situation with teachers' language knowledge is, she said: “You have to think about the future. At present, minority schools tend to have minority children. I concede they don't understand that there is a mistake in a teacher's speech somewhere. But if the Latvian children start coming to us? I have primary school teachers who say openly: I have no problem talking to a minority child. But if I have a Latvian child in front of me, I'll be embarrassed."
Vediščeva said that overall, the school has major problems with Latvian teachers. “We're lacking three teachers right now so we share classes,” she said.
The lack of staff at schools is an old subject, and equally painful is the wage issue that the departing government promised to address next year to prevent a teachers' strike. Earlier, it was reported that five teachers had been suspended at a school in Salaspils, and several more in other schools, following the visit of inspectors of the State Language Center.
How can Salaspils secondary school, where 870 children are studying, and both the national minority program and the Latvian program are being implemented in parallel, solve the major staffing problems?
The school's principal, Veneranda Bogdāne, said: “We've been attracting teachers from outside, all classes are taking place. The physics teacher certainly won't come back, she's already elderly. Physics is currently taking place on Zoom."
Salaspils municipality currently funds Latvian language courses for 13 Salaspils elementary school teachers. Three suspended teachers are in their 60s, and one in her fifties. Are they determined to return to work, and when should it be?
Bogdāne replied that teachers should return on January 26. However, it appears that all teachers have taken sick leaves.
“I guess they were stressed after this. If a person has a work-incapacity leave, the period of suspension will be extended in accordance with the Labor Law,” said the principal.
Responsible authorities: The Latvian language had to be long known by everyone
Maksims Platonovs, deputy director of the Education Quality Management Department, said that teachers in minority schools had to have known the official language at the highest level for decades, and no witch hunts are going on. Teacher language skills are evaluated by the State Language Centre, which mainly responds to applications and complaints but also occasionally implements scheduled inspections. However, the body represented by Platonovs controls whether the school program is implemented in the language in which it is intended and also refers to applications and complaints.
“For the most part, all these cases have been identified by the State Language Centre and we then react. A teacher who does not know the official language – we cannot talk about any quality educational process, they cannot teach the language to the child, his or her presence in the institution is in fact unacceptable. Therefore, these amendments to the law were directed,” said Platonovs.
As the statistics compiled by the State Language Centre show,
in the 10 months of this year, 102 preschool education teachers, 29 primary and secondary education teachers, as well as eight vocational education teachers, have been administratively sanctioned for not knowing Latvian.
Representative of the State Language Center Aira Semjonova said that it was horrible that there were such figures at all, and that these teachers should be suspended as: it is Latvia here, and the official language has long had to be the language of daily communication in all areas.