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Riga's mayor castigates switchover of Russian schools to Latvian language as mistake

Before the reform plan takes legal effect, it must pass the endorsement procedure in parliament

RIGA, January 23. /TASS/. Mayor of the Latvian capital Riga, Nils Usakovs, believes that the general school reform envisioning the switchover of all ethnic minority schools to Latvian as the principal language of instruction, which the government endorsed on Tuesday, is a huge error and a political provocation.

"That’s a huge error on the part of the Latvian government and one can perceive it only in terms of a political provocation that will spoil the quality of education and damage stability in the country," Usakovs wrote in Facebook.

He recalled that the ethnic minority schools in Riga were going to respond to the reform as of 2019 by a program of support for education in the native languages, including through the introduction of supplementary classes in the minority languages.

"This will help us keep up the quality of education and defend minority rights," Usakovs said. "There’s a lot of highly complicated work ahead of us but we won’t let anyone hurt either our children or our schools or education."

The reform endorsed by the Ministry of Education and Science envisions a changeover of the instruction process to the Latvian language at all the ethnic minority schools as of the 2020/2021 academic year. At Russian schools, the curriculums will reserve pace for the Russian language only at classes of Russian as such, the classes of literature and the subjects related to culture and history.

A gradual implementation of the reform is to begin on September 1, 2018, when a new academic year traditionally begins in many regions of the former Soviet Union.

Before the reform plan takes legal effect, it must pass the endorsement procedure in parliament.

The reform has caused frustration among the country’s Russian-speaking community that makes up 40% of the population. Defenders of Russian schools have held a meeting and two marches against the authorities’ motion. About 2,000 people came to the meeting while the marches brought together many thousands of participants.

Latvian is the only state language in this country. Russian is regarded as a foreign language. The first sweeping reform of the ethnic minority school education was introduced here on September 1, 2004.

As a result of the latter, a bilingual instruction pattern appeared in the schooling system. The Russian schools have an opportunity to teach only 40% subjects in Russian in high school at present.