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Latvian government endorses reform of Russian-language schools

Funds are due to be allocated to train teachers for the reform

RIGA, January 23. /TASS/. The Latvian government approved at a meeting on Tuesday the proposal of the Ministry of Education and Science to switch educational instruction in Latvia’s schools for ethnic monitories to the Latvian language. The implementation of this reform will begin as early as September 1, 2019, and end on September 1, 2021.

According to the draft amendments to the law on education and the general education law prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science, this reform provides for gradual transition to educational instruction in ethnic minority schools in Latvian as of September 1, 2019. It should be endorsed by Latvia’s Saeima (parliament) to come into force.

Minister of Education and Science Karlis Sadurskis has expressed the hope that the legislative body would approve it this coming spring. "Today we are considering it in the government, and then the draft laws on education and general education will be submitted to parliament. I hope that Saeima members will start working quickly, energetically and creatively and that it will become a law during the spring session," he told the local LNT television channel on Tuesday.

According to Sadurskis, currently about 20% of schoolchildren do not know the official language well enough. "Language is an element that unites the nation, and only a cohesive nation can develop successfully," he noted.

Funds are due to be allocated to train teachers for this reform. "Six-month courses will be organized for teachers within the next three years. They will have methods of teaching subjects in Latvian. Those teachers whose certificates of Latvian language knowledge do not correspond to the real level will have an opportunity to improve their knowledge," the minister stressed.

Attempts to eliminate Russian-language schools

The Latvian ruling coalition earlier backed the education reform proposed by the Ministry of Education and Science, according to which ethnic minorities’ schools will have to switch to teaching nearly all subjects in the official language within the next few years. Students will only be able to learn in Russian their mother tongue, literature and subjects related to culture and history.

These plans have sparked a wave of indignation among the Russian-speaking residents of Latvia who make up about 40% of the country’s population. The opponents of the reform have already held a rally against this initiative, which brought together more than 1,000 people, and two marches in defense of ethnic minority schools in Latvia.

Latvian is the only official language in the country, while Russian is considered to be foreign. In September 2004, Latvia embarked on the education reform in ethnic minorities’ schools. However, following mass protests, the country introduced a bilingual education system. Only 40% of subjects can be taught in Russian in Russian-language high schools. Local nationalists have repeatedly sought a full transition of educational instruction in all public and municipal schools for ethnic minorities to Latvian.