“Very many kids just stop talking, and we don't see why. We have 7th, 8th-grade kids that don't speak, they just refuse to communicate. There are children who do not cope with this whole Covid, with what has been, yes,” said a high-school special needs teacher who helps students with learning disabilities and also those who need support before exams because of other health problems.
Several parents have already got the exemptions for their children, but for those who have not done this, the order as of Tuesday is tougher – no longer a family doctor's note.
A teacher who wanted to remain anonymous this week called the State Education Content Center, which is responsible for conducting exams, for other reasons. With the new order, the rules have also been tightened to provide support for children who will nevertheless take the exams.
The teacher said: “Yesterday I had a conversation with a mom whose child has been diagnosed with dysgraphia. He doesn't do well in math. He's a smart boy but he can't... His mother doesn't want to exempt him from the exam [..]. She would like him to receive at least support measures – to take exams in a separate room, with an extended time. The rules changed in July, [it is allowed] only with the opinion of the State Medical Pedagogical Commission. There is only one commission in Latvia, all of Latvia's ninth-grade pupils have to get to this commission.”
Kaspars Špule, head of the General Education Exam Division of the State Educational Content Center, explained that the idea of reinforcing requirements for exam exemptions was the result of a parent providing information about a school where more than half of the pupils received an exemption from the exams last spring.
Špule said: “The question emerged –is it really so that all pupils need to be released from state examination? The Health Inspectorate concluded that family doctors are granting exemptions and that this is a very high burden for family doctors. We have been stripped of our medical care by exemptions from state tests.”
A similar situation has also been observed in other schools, said Špule.
The head of the Latvian Association of Family Doctors, Sarmīte Veide, nevertheless raises the alarm, indicating that the new legislative amendments had not been discussed with family doctors.
“It will be a huge load for patients and also for specialists. Patients who are released from the exam have severe or moderate chronic illnesses, we send them to a specialist at least in the first place. Until now, if the patient's condition is unchanged, we sent to the specialists as needed. It is now that the patient needs to go again, and first you need to take a referral from the family doctor. The queues are still extending – two, three months, and even longer,” said Veide.
There has also been no discussion of the reinforcement of the rules with patient support associations, acknowledged Līga Bērziņa, Head of the Latvian Alliance of Autism:
"Also until now, for children who were granted an exemption from the exams, I do not think there are many family doctors in Latvia who would dare to give them personally. We risk again not sorting the problem by nature, but again creating another bureaucratic institution over a complex bureaucracy system."
Špule from the Educational Content Center said that the exemption from the examinations is necessary if a pupil can experience some health problems during them, which could also disrupt others. It should be considered whether the exemption of state testing will benefit the child for further education. It is also possible to take only the exams required by the next educational institution.
According to data from the Ministry of Education and Science, the centralized examination in Latvian for year 12 was due for 14,000 pupils last spring. The Latvian-language exam was not attended by 1,943 pupils, 1,179 of whom had a doctor's note. The exam in math was not attended by 2,150 pupils, with 1,324 having a note.