Steady progress towards universal enrolment among children aged 3 years old and older
Latvia has had a long tradition of public ECEC dating back to the time when it was still part of the Soviet Union (USSR). This however all changed at the onset of the collapse of the USSR. The years that followed 1991, when Latvia regained independence, were characterised by a transition to a market economy. In this period the country also experienced a pronounced economic recession. With tight public budgets, priority was given to financing basic education over ECEC. A large share of ECEC facilities were closed down as a result. This left many parents with the sole responsibility for the early education and care of their young children and for preparing their children for school, often without alternative support systems in place. As a result enrolments of 3-6 year-olds drastically dropped to a low of 28.4% in 1992 which was almost half that of 3 years before. Enrolments gradually rose as the country climbed out of economic recession.
The year 2002 was an important turning point. An amendment to the General Education Law made ECEC for 5- and 6-year-olds compulsory. Although the economic crisis that struck the country in 2008/09 almost made it optional again, the (financial) commitment of the central government kept it mandatory (Eurydice, 2010). Figure 2.5 shows the result of this commitment, with about 96% of 5-year-olds and 92% of 6-year-olds enrolled in ECEC in 2012.
The figure also shows the considerable proportion of children still enrolled in ECEC at the age of 7 (7.8% in 2012), which is higher than other EU countries with a school starting age of 7. For example, in Estonia, Finland and Sweden, where it is also possible to defer admission to primary school, the proportions of 7-year-olds enrolled in ECEC were much smaller (1.8%, 1.5% and 1.4% respectively) (Eurostat, 2014b). The review team considers this an issue deserving further policy attention, given that late enrolment may limit children’s opportunities. Although holding a child back or delaying the start of ECEC may reduce the ability range in the class, it simultaneously increases the age range, which poses other challenges to the social fabric of the classroom. This may also be an issue of equality of opportunity if certain groups are over-represented among children who start school later (such as children who are relatively young within the age-group, boys and children from ethnic minority backgrounds). Whether this is the case in Latvia is not known.
Figure 2.5. Net enrolment rate of children up to 7 years of age (2002-12)
Sources: Age 3 to 7 - OECD (2014a), Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2014-en; under age 3 (from 2006 to 2012) - Eurostat (2015c), “Formal childcare by age group and duration - % over the population of each age group (source: SILC)”, Eurostat database, Eurostat, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/product?code=ilc_caindforma l&language=en&mode=view (accessed 15 May 2015).
There is also the possibility that a child’s lack of school “readiness” is caused by special needs that would be better addressed in other ways (Sharp,
2002), but whether this is the case is also unknown. MoES should therefore investigate who these children are and the reasons for their delayed entry into school.
For children aged 4 years and younger, enrolment rates have also increased in the last decade, despite the economic hardships caused by the crisis. In 2012, 87% of 4-year-olds were enrolled in ECEC which was above the OECD average of 84%. With 93.3% of 4- to 6-year-olds enrolled in ECEC in 2012, Latvia is already nearing the EU 2020 benchmark (95% of children from age 4 to compulsory primary school age), only just below the EU-28 average of 93.9% (European Commission, 2014a). in addition, Figure 2.5 shows the steady progress made during the last decade of increasing enrolments for
3-year-olds. in 2012, 80% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in ECEC which was considerably above the oECD average of 70% and about 20% more than a decade before.