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Organisation of learning in schools

The current basic education curriculum was implemented in 2005 and is defined through national standards which determine the aims, content and time allocated to each subject. The basic education curriculum aims to develop students’ academic knowledge, provide a base for further learning, and foster social skills and personality development. Every student is supposed to acquire an understanding of language and mathematics; the ability to use ICT; an understanding of nature, society and history; ethical values; and communication skills (MoES, 2015).

Each school prepares its own curriculum taking into consideration the standard requirements, teachers’ qualifications and students’ interests. It can also offer subjects not included in the curriculum for which it establishes its own quality standards (UNESCO International Bureau of Education, 2011). Teachers and schools have discretion over the textbooks used and some develop their own. Although there were some concerns about the quality of textbooks in the initial years after independence, notable improvements in quality have been reported since the start of the millennium (Geske and Geske, 2010).

As the curriculum was nearing its 10th anniversary it was felt it needed updating. The reform currently underway will replace the largely knowledge-based curriculum with a competency-based one. The new curriculum is expected to be gradually piloted from the academic year 2015/16 onwards and introduced in 2018/19, starting in Grades 1-6. it is to include a focus on student-centred teaching, foreign language acquisition from Grade 1 onwards, and competences such as entrepreneurial spirit, a healthy lifestyle, financial literacy and civic education (MoEs, 2015).

latvian students in basic education have fewer hours of instruction than many of their peers in oECD countries. The compulsory instruction time for students in municipal schools is 592 hours per year in primary and 794 hours in lower secondary, considerably below the oECD averages for similar public schools of 794 and 905 hours respectively (OECD, 2014a). instruction time in basic education varies by grade but in general students are taught 170 days a year with the exception of Grade 1 (165 days) and Grade 9 (180 days). Days are divided into 40 or 45 minute lessons, depending on the decisions of the school head. lessons can be combined in order to have more uninterrupted time for a subject.

Official instruction time is usually complemented by after-school activities. PiSA 2012 showed that 44% of 15-year-old students spent time at school for after-school lessons in mathematics, 27% for lessons in the language of instruction, 18% for science and 51% for other subjects, compared with OECD averages of 38%, 27%, 26% and 37% respectively (OECD, 2013a). in addition to after-school curricular activities latvian schools also place great importance on extracurricular activities such as dance, music, art, theatre, folklore, environmental or technical activities and sports (MoeS, 2015).

A growing body of international research points towards the potential benefits of participating in well-structured extracurricular activities such as higher grades, student engagement with school and learning, and a decrease in disciplinary and truancy issues. in contrast, poorly structured or too many extracurricular activities can have no or even negative effects (Fredericks and Eccles, 2006, 2010; Bohnert et al., 2010). Though it is assumed that latvian students benefit from their extracurricular activities, there is no strong evidence to support this. MoES should investigate this issue, considering it finances these activities through payment of the salaries of the teachers involved.

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