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Striving for equity in student performance

The Latvian government is committed to implementing the principle of “inclusive education” which it defines as a process in which the diverse needs of all learners are met by increasing the opportunities for every learner to participate in the learning process, culture and various communities and reducing the chances of exclusion from education and the educational process (MoEs, 2014).

Latvia has implemented a range of initiatives to put these principles into practice and tackle disparities in education access and learning. All children have a legal entitlement to ECEC from 1.5 years of age. municipalities provide free meals for children from poor families attending ECEC and if the municipality’s financial capacity allows for it they provide free meals for all children. Compulsory basic education and upper secondary education is free and costs to households are low due to policies such as free school meals for Grades 1 to 4 and free transport for children in remote areas.

Latvia provides considerable support for ethnic minority languages, education and culture. The aim of Latvia’s bilingual education policy is to give all basic education graduates a good knowledge of both Latvian and their own native language. The government has developed and financed its bilingual education model by providing publicly funded education in seven minority languages: Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Estonian, and Lithuanian.

At the basic education level bilingual schools are entitled to determine which subjects are taught in Latvian. The basic education standards provide five different models for combining subjects in Latvian and a minority language. At the upper secondary education level, however, 60% of all subjects are taught in Latvian in the minority language stream (UNESCO, 2015; MoES, 2015).

Despite these and other policy measures, disparities in access to education and performance remain. Although the relationship between students’ socio-economic background and performance in PISA 2012 was close to the OECD average, there is a significant performance gap between students in rural and urban areas in Latvia. Urban students outperform rural students by 52 points in mathematics, the equivalent of more than a year of schooling. After accounting for socio-economic status, a significant performance gap of 21 points remains. This suggests that the quality of education is one of the factors contributing to disadvantage. TIMSS and PIRLS showed similarly significant differences in the performance of Grade 4 students in urban and rural areas, and the gap has persisted and widened over time (Johansone, 2010; Geske et al., 2006). This issue is discussed further in Chapter 3.

Low educational attainment is a factor closely associated with being not in employment, education or training (NEET), as in other countries. Some 30% of those who are NEET in Latvia have only attained below upper secondary education (OECD, 2015c). Across the OECD, NEETs tend to come from disadvantaged families and this is also the case for Latvia. In Latvia, the maximum educational attainment of NEETs’ parents is on average 0.4 levels lower, using the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) levels, than that of non-NEETs’ parents, which is comparable to the situation in OECD countries. Parents’ employment status also differs between NEETs and non-NEETs. In Latvia, in 16% of cases where a young NEET lives with their parents, neither of the parents is in work, compared to 10% for non-NEETs.

Figure 1.6. Mean mathematics performance in PISA 2012, by school location, after accounting for socio-economic status

  • — All students A Students in schools in cities (100 000 people or more)
  • ? Students in schools in rural areas (fewer than 3 000 people)

Countries are ranked in order of mean performance of all students, after accounting for socio-economic status.

Source: OECD (2013c), PISA 2012 Results: Excellence through Equity (Volume II): Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

At the tertiary level there are concerns that the merit-based selection process for free study places limits the chances of students from disadvantaged backgrounds continuing their studies. Government-funded monthly stipends are also awarded to the highest-achieving students in the programme. it is feared that such a purely merit-based funding system exacerbates inequities (World Bank, 2014).

Females tend to outperform males in Latvia on a number of education-related indicators. in PisA 2012, girls performed better than boys in all three of the subjects, particularly in reading and science (oECD, 2014c). There is also a substantial gender gap and regional gap in the number of dropouts from secondary education. dropout rates remain high for young boys, and early school-leaving rates1 are about twice as high in rural areas as in urban areas (oECD, 2015c). Tertiary attainment is also generally higher for women, and the difference is larger than the oECD average. The tertiary attainment rate for 25-64 year-olds was 36% for women and 21% for men in 2012, while the OECD averages were 34% and 30% respectively. Among younger adults, the difference was even more marked: tertiary attainment rates for 25-34 year-olds were 51% for women and 26% for men (the OECD averages were 44% and 34% respectively) (OECD, 2014b). striving for gender equality with a focus on boys and young men may help widen Latvia’s talent pool and achieve its inclusive education ambitions and other education objectives.

As with some other OECD and EU countries, child poverty is an important issue for Latvia. Despite good progress in recent years, a sizable proportion of Latvia’s youth (children under the age of 18) were still at risk of poverty and social exclusion: 35.3% in 2014, down from 44.1% in 2011. The Latvian government is committed to reducing socio-economic and regional disparities and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. With the support of EU and other funding it is continuing to implement a range of activities to develop the support system and proper education infrastructure necessary to provide these at-risk youth and youth with special education needs with a quality education (MoES, 2014).

For example, for the period 2014-20 the government intends to provide grants and other support to schools to support students in primary education who are identified as at risk of social exclusion. In the previous EU funding period (2007-13) the infrastructure of 36 general education schools and 61 special education schools was customised for children with special needs, including 13 special education schools in 2013 (MoES, 2015).

The evidence however also suggests much more needs to be done to better support the learning of students with special education needs and integrate them into regular classes where possible. The data showed that in 2013/14 fewer than 4 out of 10 students (35%) with special education needs were integrated in regular schools (MoES, 2015).

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