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Realigning system capacity with demographic changes

Demographic changes have a significant influence on all policy areas including education. Latvia’s student population has been declining due to long-term low fertility rates and emigration. The Latvian government has made some effort to optimise the school network although some municipalities have proved unwilling to close small schools. Further policy measures may be needed to promote different ways to rationalise the school network and deal with the challenges of overstaffed schools. The new school funding model discussed above, and the impending retirement of large numbers of teachers may facilitate this process.

Consolidating the network of schools and tertiary education institutions

At the beginning of 2014 there were about 2 million people in Latvia, nearly 20% fewer than in 2000. According to the demographic forecasts, the Latvian population will continue to decrease in the coming years due to long-term low fertility rates and emigration. As noted in the Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020, Latvia expects a severe “demographic shock” in the coming years (MoEs, 2014). It is expected that between 2012 and 2020 the number of students in secondary general education will fall by 11 600. At the tertiary level this decline is expected to be even larger; in 2020 80 000 students are expected to be enrolled in tertiary education which is about 15% fewer than in 2012.

only the basic education level is expected to see an increase in the number of students in the coming years but as Figures 1.7 and 1.8 show, even this increase is likely to be temporary (Hazans, 2013; Krisjane and Lace, 2012; Central statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2013).

These demographic changes call for Latvia’s educational capacity to be reviewed, including the numbers of schools and higher education institutions and the people working in them. According to MoES data, for example, in 2013, 30% of Grade 12 classes did not exceed 20 students and 10% had 10 students or fewer. Internationally, in 2012, Latvia had the smallest average class sizes - 16 students in primary and 15 in lower secondary - among OECD and partner countries (the OECD averages are 21 and 24 respectively) (OECD, 2014b).

Figure 1.7. Number of residents, by age (start of 2014)

? Men ? Women

Source: Ministry of Economics (2014a), Informativais Zinojums par Darba Tirgus Videja un Ilgtermina Prognozem [Informative Note on Mid-term and Long-term Forecast of Labour Market], Ministry of Economics, Riga, www.em.gov.lv/files/tautsaimniecibas_attistiba/EMZino_150814.pdf.

In response to this situation, MoES has formulated a policy that primarily aims to maintain access to ECEC and primary education as close as possible to the place of residence, while concentrating upper secondary education at the regional level. Lower secondary schools (Grades 7 to 9) are expected to meet the specific needs of the local and regional network of schools.

50 - CHAPTER 1. LATVIA AND ITS EDUCATION SYSTEM

To ensure the effective use of resources, independent lower secondary schools may have to be merged regionally (with upper secondary schools). Alternatively, they may have to become basic education schools (providing primary and lower secondary programmes). The implementation of this policy may be difficult as in practice municipalities support their own local schools and are unwilling to close small secondary schools, as mentioned above. Further policy measures may therefore be needed to promote a variety of means of rationalising the school network, covered in Chapter 3.

Figure 1.8. Estimated changes in population between 2012 and 2020, by age group

Source: MoEs (2014), Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020, Ministry of Education and science, Riga, http://m.likumi.lv/doc.php?id=266406.

The tertiary education sector will also see a continued decline in student numbers, a trend that started ten years ago. This will put further pressure on the relatively large network of tertiary education institutions in Latvia. Further policy measures may be needed here, as discussed in Chapter 5.

Another challenge Latvia will have to face in the coming years is that many of Latvia’s schools are overstaffed. Although the numbers of teachers has fallen during the last decade, it has happened at a much slower rate than the student population. For example between 2003/04 and 2013/14 the number of students in basic education (Grades 1 to 9) fell by about 35% while the number of teachers (full-time equivalents) fell by a mere 12%. This development has resulted in very low student-teacher ratios. In 2012 the average lower secondary student-teacher ratio was 7.9, compared with an OECD average of 13.5 (OECD, 2014b).

As noted in a recent OECD report (2014a) these very low ratios are neither sustainable nor desirable from a quality perspective. Continuing demographic decline, coupled with a tight public budget for education, has fuelled calls for efficiency gains and, as discussed above, the new school funding model under pilot should promote larger class sizes. The seemingly difficult trade-off between the quantity and quality of teachers may be less of an issue, however, considering many teachers are to retire in the near future.

At the tertiary level the number of part-time staff grew rapidly, outnumbering full-time staff since 2007. This was a deliberate choice by institutions facing budget constraints fuelled by the economic crisis. The large number of part-time staff may change as many academic staff are nearing retirement age and institutions may struggle to draw in young academic talent to replace them. MoEs is carefully monitoring this development.

 
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