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The size of the school system

Latvia is committed to ensuring access to quality basic education throughout the country and as close as possible to children’s homes. Population dispersion and decline make this challenging and expensive. Like Estonia, Iceland, Norway and Poland, Latvia has many small schools catering to small rural communities (OECD, 2014c). In 2013/14, 313 primary and secondary schools had 100 or fewer students and 122 had 50 or fewer students. As the majority of the students go to school in urban areas, school sizes vary significantly according to location, ranging from an average size of 657 students in Riga to 115 students in schools in rural parts of the country (OECD, 2014b).

Between 2003 and 2012, the number of students in basic education fell by about 35%, while the number of schools and teachers only fell by about 12% each (Figure 3.1). By 2020, it is expected that the number of 0-4 year-olds will fall by 11.3% and the number of 5-9 year-olds by 2.8%, while the number of 10-14 year-olds will increase by 19.4% compared to 2012 (MoES, 2014). This latter is only a temporary upswing in student numbers, however. The decline in numbers, coupled with the economic recession, led to a minor reorganisation of the school network and placed efficiency and staffing issues at the forefront of the educational debate (Grivins, 2012). The Education development Guidelines 2014-2020 note that primary education should be provided as close as possible to the place of residence and near local motor roads for easy access. upper secondary schools should be provided at the regional level, whilst lower secondary schools should fit in around the existing network of primary and upper secondary schools (MoEs, 2014).

Figure 3.1. Changes in student and teacher numbers in basic education (2003-12)

note: The number of teachers refers to the number of full-time equivalent positions.

Sources: Central Statistical Bureau of latvia (2015), Statistical Yearbook of Latvia 2014, Central Statistical Bureau of latvia, Riga, gadagramata_2014_statistical_yearbook_of_latvia_14_00_lv_en_0.pdf; Eurostat (2015), “Teachers (ISCED 0-4) and academic staff (ISCED 5-6) by employment status (full-time, part-time, full-time equivalence) and sex”, Eurostat database, Eurostat, do?dataset=educ_pers1t&lang=en (accessed 9 September 2015).

The school funding model plays an important role in promoting the reorganisation of the school network. As discussed in Chapter 1, the model implemented in 2009 has succeeded in reducing state expenditure as intended, and contributed to reducing the size of the school network from 858 institutions in 2010/11. It has struggled to improve efficiency further, however, with some municipalities reallocating scarce resources to very small schools that are no longer viable. This seems to be a particular issue for small lower secondary schools (Grades 7 to 9); in the 3 years following the school year 2010/11, their number fell by only 9 to 358 in 2013/14 (Central statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2015). These schools are seemingly protected from closure or consolidation. This issue has been the subject of repeated political debate in Latvia (oECD, 2014b).

At the time of writing, Latvia is piloting a revised school funding model that aims to further enhance educational quality for all students, while striving for efficiency gains. Low teacher salaries, as well as the need to make school financing more transparent and efficient, have served as key drivers for the revision of the funding model.

Classes and student-teacher ratios

Classes are generally made up of students of the same age, except if a student has repeated a year or if a school has to group students together because of low enrolment. Central regulations on the minimum and maximum number of students in a class were abolished in 2009, and responsibility for this now rests with schools and municipalities. As discussed in Chapter 1, class sizes and student-teacher ratios are too small to be either financially sustainable or desirable. The likely retirement of many teachers in the near future may provide an opportunity to tackle the difficult trade-off between the quantity and quality of staff.

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