Ukrainian children might have to go to Latvian schools next year

Ideally, from next school year, Ukrainian children in Latvia should start studying in Latvian schools as a mandatory requirement, the Ministry of Education and Science (IZM) said February 20.

Non-governmental organizations have been saying for a long time that it is essential for Ukrainians to be included in the education system, as is already the case in neighboring countries. Still, much more needs to be done ahead to do that.

More than 3,500 Ukrainians are currently studying in Latvian schools, while another 4,000 are studying remotely in Ukrainian educational institutions. Olga and her son came to Latvia at the beginning of the war. From the start, her son learned remotely because the family hoped the war would not last long. Then he tried to go to a school in Latvia, but it was too difficult because of the language barrier.

“I wanted him to finish 9th grade at our school and then.... He tried. He learned for half a year and then went to Ukraine to finish 9th grade. The thing is, when he started going to school, he didn't understand anything. How can he learn chemistry without knowing the language? There was no way to communicate for him to understand anything,” Olga said.

Olga is now looking for opportunities to improve her son's Latvian language skills so that he can be sent to a school in Latvia from next year.

It will probably be mandatory for other Ukrainian children living in Latvia from next year. The Ministry currently plans to change the existing order that Ukrainians can choose where to study, and adapt to neighboring countries, which have already made education in one of the public schools mandatory.

The data show that, in general, the inclusion of Ukrainians in society has gone much better in Estonia and Lithuania than in Latvia. Estonia and Lithuania employ around 70% of Ukrainians, while Latvia has half the number, IZM Parliamentary Secretary Silvija Reinberga confirmed.

“It was also very important for us to hear from representatives of Ukraine that they support it. Given that Ukrainian families need to integrate into our society. They need to be visible in our systems so that we can make sure that no child in Latvia is invisible or lost in the system. Then it's very important for us that we integrate them into educational institutions ourselves and be able to make sure they're healthy and safe,“ Reinberga said.

This process will also help Ukrainians learn Latvian and potentially find work in the future and will also relieve parents.

Reinberga conceded that the amendments could ideally come into force from next school year, but it is difficult to predict whether this will happen now because there is much to be done.

Currently, the Ministry identifies what amendments are necessary to the laws and regulations. Negotiations with the social partners are also ahead. Perhaps the requirement to be registered with a Latvian educational institution would come after a certain period of time spent in Latvia, similar to Lithuania. The specified time period could be 3-12 months.

The IZM acknowledged that it is likely that additional funding will also be needed to implement the changes for both educational institutions and other stakeholders.

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