Content of vocational education - an area of reform
As with general upper secondary education, the content of vocational education is determined by MoES in co-operation with other ministries. Vocational provision is planned on the basis of data from the Ministry of Economics, which conducts medium and long-term forecasts of labour market skills. The Ministry of Welfare’s agency, the State Employment Agency (Nodarbinatibas valsts agentura), also conducts short-term reviews of the balance between demand and supply in the labour market to inform the design of education and training programmes for the unemployed.
Since 2011 the Sector Expert Councils (SECs) have also been involved in this process to give sector stakeholders a say in developing vocational education content, in an effort to strengthening its quality and relevance. These newly established bodies comprise employer representatives (from industrial associations), central government representatives (from MoES and other ministries), and employee representatives (from the Free Trade Union Confederation in Latvia), based on a social partnership model. The SECs are to play a central role in the development of the new modularised vocational education programmes (see below). Working groups comprising teachers and industry specialists and the SECs will be responsible for evaluating how relevant the new programmes are to labour market needs.
Vocational upper secondary education is organised in eight fields of study:
- • general education
- • humanities and art
- • social sciences, business and law
- • physical sciences, mathematics and information technology (IT)
- • engineering and manufacturing
- • agriculture
- • health and welfare
- • services (e.g. hospitality, beauty therapy, environmental protection, transport, civil and military defence).
Students can switch to a different vocational field if they are assessed as being capable of meeting the requirements. All students have to study Latvian language and literature, foreign languages, mathematics, applied informatics, history, business, and sport.
The Regulations Regarding the State Vocational Secondary Education Standard and the State Vocational Education Standard state that the theoretical part of vocational upper secondary programmes should consist of 60% general subjects and 40% vocational subjects. Among the general subjects 45% of lesson hours are spent on language and communication studies, 33% on mathematics, natural sciences and technical sciences and 22% social sciences and cultural studies (Cabinet of Ministers, 2000).
The development of practical skills is a key part of the vocational education curriculum. The content of each programme is divided between theory (general and vocational subjects) and practice (practical training). A minimum of 50% of any vocational programme must take the form of practical training. This can be done both in the vocational school and through a work placement, though there is no specification of how much time is to be spent in either site.
Post-secondary non-tertiary vocational education - which in Latvia is considered part of upper secondary vocational education - is organised in the same way as vocational upper secondary education, but with a greater emphasis on practice: the balance between theory and practice is 40-60. Students spend 65% of their time training in workplaces.
Providing all students with work placements has traditionally been a challenge for Latvia. Work-based learning and apprenticeships have been underdeveloped, partly due to the traditional “school-centeredness” of vocational education. Where they exist, they depend heavily on the voluntary involvement of the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises that characterise much of the Latvian economy.
Since 2013, Latvia has been piloting work-based learning elements to provide a closer link between learning theory and practical work. In December 2012, Latvia, along with Greece, Italy, Portugal, the Slovak Republic and Spain, signed a memorandum of understanding with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research on co-operation in vocational education and training in Europe. In the academic year 2013/14 a total of 148 students and 29 companies were involved in the pilot project implemented by 6 vocational schools. The following year the pilot was expanded to include 12 to 15 vocational schools (to a varying degree), around 500 students and 200 companies (European Commission, 2015; MoES, 2015).
Latvia is aiming to introduce work-based learning system wide. To this end amendments to the Vocational Education Act have been adopted in 2015, and at the time of writing, work is being carried out to develop specific work-based learning regulations by the Cabinet of Ministers. Though undoubtedly a positive development, this pilot initiative is still separate from the existing apprenticeship provision organised by the Chamber of Crafts.
This pilot is part of a larger reform of vocational education in Latvia that aims to:
- • promote vocational education quality
- • ensure its relevance to the labour market
- • ensure efficient use of resources to raise attractiveness of vocational education (MoES, 2015).
These reforms have included the establishment of the SECs, reorganisation of the vocational school network and the establishment of the VECCs. in addition Latvia is in the process of modularising its vocational programmes, establishing professional standards and aligning its level descriptors with the EQF; these efforts are led by the National Centre for Education (ViSC). These are without doubt positive developments that respond to the concerns about the quality and relevance of vocational education of Latvia for its economy and society at large.
A recent European Commission report (2015) concluded much more work is needed to update the curricula and professional standards, however. Work is progressing slower than planned. The evidence from our review visit also suggests that some SECs are less well established than others, limiting their potential to contribute to improving the quality and relevance of vocational education in Latvia.