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The Latvian education system - a brief overview

The Latvian education system is relatively small. in the school year 2013/14, there were 423 389 children and students enrolled in the Latvian education system (Table 1.1). This number has decreased considerably in the past decades as a result of ongoing demographic decline and emigration.

Latvia provides a legal entitlement to early childhood education and care (ECEC) for all children from 1.5 years of age throughout the country. ECEC was made compulsory for 5- and 6-year-olds in 2002 and is considered part of general education (Eurypedia, 2015). ECEC in Latvia is commonly referred to as “pre-school education” and is defined holistically, encompassing the cognitive, socio-emotional and health development of the child. in 2013/14, 93 533 children were enrolled in ECEC institutions, with minority-language programmes available in some institutions.

Table 1.1. The Latvian education system - Overview in numbers


Number of teaching/ academic staff

Educational level





Early childhood and care (pre-school)

74 968

93 533

8 211

9 703

General education

298 516

209 130

28 323

23 114

Basic education (Grades 1-9)

217 038

160 400

19 799

16 039

Upper secondary education (Grades 10-12)

57 218

30 375

5 528

4 609

Special education schools

9 691

7 088

1 955

1 773

Evening schools (Grades 1-12)

14 569

11 267

1 041


Vocational education

42 737

31 055

3 932

3 329

Higher education and college

131 125

89 671

4 682

4 888

Source: Central statistical Bureau of Latvia (2015), Statistical Yearbook Latvia 2014, Central statistical Bureau of Latvia, Riga, gadagramata_2014_statistical_yearbook_of_latvia_14_00_lv_en_0.pdf.

Figure 1.4 outlines the structure of education in Latvia. Compulsory single-structure basic education lasts from Grades 1 to 9 (age 7 to 16) and is divided into 6 years of primary education and 3 years of lower secondary education. Transition to the next class takes place automatically as there are no examinations to pass from one class to the next. Basic education ends after Grade 9 with final examinations in students’ first language, the Latvian language for students in minority schools, mathematics, Latvian history and a foreign language, leading to the award of a certificate which is needed for entry into upper secondary education.

Although it is not compulsory, most students in Latvia go on to obtain an upper secondary education (Grades 10 to 12). Upper secondary education is provided in general and vocational pathways and on a full-time or part-time basis. Students may choose the most suitable institution for upper secondary schooling.

The various vocational upper secondary education programmes take between two and four years to complete and lead to different qualification levels. Only a few schools offer lower secondary vocational education. Most vocational education programmes start at upper secondary level and are concentrated in the republican cities and larger towns.

Figure 1.4. The Latvian education system

Source: ReferNet Latvia (2014), VET in Europe - Country Report Latvia, Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training),

To improve the attractiveness, quality and labour market relevance of vocational education, in 2009 the government introduced reforms including consolidation of the vocational school network, the introduction of work-based learning and the development of occupational standards (oECD, 2015a). The government aims to equalise participation rates in general and vocational upper secondary education by 2020 (MoEs, 2014). in 2013, 39% of upper secondary students were in vocational programmes, which is lower than the 2012 oECD and Eu averages of 44% and 50% respectively (oECD, 2014b).

Students in general upper secondary education who pass the final exams are awarded the certificate of general secondary education which they need to enter tertiary education. vocational upper secondary students who pass the final exams are awarded a diploma of vocational education and a professional qualification. Those students who have completed a three-year vocational education programme first need to successfully complete a fourth year (“bridge year”) of study before gaining access to tertiary education.

Latvia has a diverse and comparatively autonomous tertiary education sector and almost two-thirds of upper secondary graduates (62.8% in 2012) go on to tertiary education. nevertheless student numbers have decreased significantly in the past decade, to fewer than 90 000 in 2013/14 (65 000 of whom were studying full-time). This is a decline of more than 40 000 compared to 8 years before. in the same period however the number of tertiary education institutions and colleges grew from 57 to 60 (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2015).

in 2013/14, 27% of tertiary students were in private institutions, which is higher than in many OECD countries (the OECD average was 15% in 2012) (OECD, 2014b). The state funds a pre-defined number of free study places (40% in 2014/15), while the majority of students (60%) pay tuition fees. The most popular programmes are social sciences, business and law, followed by engineering.

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