Educational system of Latvia

Educational System of Latvia
State Goals For Education

The present Government has declared:
The intellectual potential of our nation is the main measure of the future real chances to acquire the education that corresponds to his/her abilities, interests and efforts. The geopolitical situation of Latvia (limited resources of raw materials and energy) determines, that the main factors ensuring Latvia’s competitive abilities are and will be highly qualified and educated inhabitants and a scientifically and intellectually capacious national economy, which is based on low consumption of material resources.
The Education Act of 1991 states:
• Republic of Latvia Residents have the right to an education. This right is guaranteed by the State and the local governments through the realization and development of a continuous educational system, through the creation of conditions and motivations to an education, an improvement in qualifications and for self-education.
• Republic of Latvia Residents have equal rights to acquire an education irrespective to their social and material status, race, nationality, sex, membership in religious or political organization, occupation and place of residence; the education system is united, continuous and diverse, thereby enabling the feasibility to acquire the highest education possible, education and upbringing has a human and morale character.
• The principal goal of education is to provide conditions for development and perfection of ones spiritual, creative, physical and professional abilities.
• The right to acquire an education in the official State language is guaranteed in the Republic of Latvia. The right to an education in ones native language, in accordance with the Language Law, and the respective guarantees are also available to residents of other nationalities living within the State. The State creates conditions for the realization of this right. It is mandatory to acquire the official state language (Latvian) an all educational institutions existing under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Latvia, regardless of this institution’s language of instruction and irrespective to its departmental subordination.

Primary and secondary education is completely state -funded. According to the Education Act of 1991, a yearly tuition fee is set for higher education which is completely or partly covered from the State budget.

Funding of Education

Primary and secondary education is completely state-funded, including both Latvian schools and the schools of national minorities – there are many schools with Russian as a language of instruction but there are also some Polish, Estonian, Lithuanian and Jewish schools.
According to the Education Act of 1991, a yearly tuition fee is set for higher education which is completely or partly covered from the State budget. In practice, until now practically all study programs in State higher education institutions are state-financed.
As there is numerus clausus in the higher education of Latvia, tuition fee can be applied to these students who meet the entrance requirements of the program but fail to be admitted to the state-financed places in the most popular specialties (which, at the moment are economics and business administration, law, foreign languages) and express a wish to study covering tuition fees themselves.
Successive students receive a grant of 10-15 Ls/month.
It is foreseen that a tuition fee will be gradually introduced for all the students and a system of study loans will be created at the same time. Since Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, its educational system was changed to the Soviet one in the post-war period.
Soviet educational system existed in Latvia until the beginning of 1990. Under the Soviet system most of the children attended kindergartens, the full period of secondary schooling used to be 11 years in Latvian schools and 10 years in Russian schools, higher education used to be 5 years long (except medicine, where it took 6 years) and leaded to a diploma in a given specialty. According to the traditional Soviet centralism, the programs of both secondary and higher education were strictly determined and uniform. The duration of schooling was expanded already at the end of Soviet period (in 1986), the duration of secondary schooling in Latvia was changed from 11 to 12 years in Latvian schools and from 10 years to 11 years in Russian schools. It became 12 years for all schools in Latvia regardless the language of instruction after re-gaining independence in 1991.
Since re-gaining of independence, the educational system in Latvia is regulated by the Education Act, adopted in 1991. It was one of the first laws adopted after Latvia’s re-establishment as an independent country. It allowed plenty of positive changes in the educational system. However, one of the first legislative acts of the independent country has several disadvantages, therefore a new Education act is currently being prepared and its adoption is foreseen in 1995. As well, a draft Higher Education Act is already prepared and is currently being discussed among the academic public and government officials.
The most important changes introduced by the 1991 Education Act were
• dividing the upper secondary school subjects into compulsory and elective ones ;
• giving autonomy to higher education institutions;
• opening opportunities to establish private education institutions at all levels.

Marking System

Two marking systems exist in Latvia’s education:
Traditionally 5-grade marking system
that has been used in Latvia and it is still the main one in higher education, whereas secondary education has recently switched from the 5-grade marking system to
10-grade system.

Meanings of Marks

in the 5-grade system
Mark Meaning in Latvian Meaning in English
5 teicami excellent
4 labi good
3 apmierinosi (viduveji) satisfactory (fair)
2 neapmierinosi unsatisfactory
1 loti vaji totally unsatisfactory (used very seldom)

In the 10-grade system
Mark Meaning Comments
10 izcili
(with distinction) more than 5 in the 5-grade scale. Mark 10 means that the knowledge of student is substantially higher than an estimated normal level of the appropriate age group
9 teicami excellent more than 5 in the 5-grade scale, as well. Mark 9 means that the knowledge of student is higher than an estimated normal level of the appropriate age group
8 loti labi
very good approximately equivalent to 5 in the 5-grade scale. Awarded to these students whose knowledge corresponds to the highest expected level for the appropriate age group.
7 labi good approximately 4 in the 5-grade scale. Mark 7 is awarded if the student has achieved the subject deeply and with understanding, is progressing within the expected limits for the appropriate age group, but makes minor mistakes.
6 gandriz labi
almost good somewhat like 3+ or 4- in the 5-grade scale. Mark 6 is awarded to these students which are progressing within their age group limits, but are more reproducing the material than actively using it and make more substantial mistakes.
5 viduveji satisfactory 3 in the 5-grade scale. Awarded to students, which are progressing within the limits of their individual abilities, in general are not behind the appropriate age group, but make substantial mistakes and are more fixing the facts then analyzing them.
4 gandriz viduveji
almost satisfactory the very last positive grade. Might be awarded to students who do their best but still make severe mistakes and are practically just reproducing most of the necessary material.
3-1 neapmierinosi unsatisfactory different levels of marks for students whose record is below the expected for the appropriate age group.

Pre-school provision

According to the new concepts the leading role in the pre-school education is given back to the families instead of kindergartens. The number of kindergartens has quickly grown smaller after re-gaining of independence – in 1991 there were 1123 kindergartens in Latvia and 112261 children attended them, whereas in 1994 the number of kindergartens was only 647 with 60521 children attending.
Kindergartens plan their activities based on the child care and education programs approved by the Ministry of Education and Science.
Parents who take care for their children at home have the opportunity to take their children to playgroups for a couple of hours a day where children are prepared for learning at school.

School Education
Regular school year (except examination periods at grades 9 and 12) lasts 36 weeks from the beginning of September till the end of May.

Basic Education

The basic education lasts 9 years (4 years of sakumskola – primary school plus 5 years of pamatskola – basic or lower secondary) and is uniform throughout the country.
According to the legislation, children start attending school at 6 to 7 years of age, the minimum compulsory duration of schooling is until completion of 9-year basic school or until the age of 15 is reached.
The main choice after completing 9-year pamatizglitiba is between the general secondary, vocational secondary or specialized secondary education, see scheme.

General Secondary Education

The names of general secondary education institutions in Latvia typically are:
• vidusskola (direct transl. – middle school) – the most common name of a general secondary education institution.
• gimnazija (gymnasium) – a slightly more prestigious secondary school, which may be specialized in a given group of subjects, e.g. mathematics, physics and computer science, chemistry and biology, languages, humanities, etc. and usually has no instruction below grade 6.
However, no formal differences exist between a vidusskola and a gimnazija.

Compulsory and Elective Subjects. Basic and Advanced Curriculum
General secondary education includes studies of at least 12 subjects – 5 compulsory and at least 7 elective. The 5 compulsory subjects are:
• Latvian language and literature,
• Mathematics,
• Foreign language,
• History,
• Physical culture and sports.
The 7 elective subjects are chosen from the following ones:
• physics,
• chemistry,
• biology,
• computer science and information,
• economic geography and basics of business,
• technical drawing,
• visual arts,
• housekeeping,
• second foreign language,
• human, nature and society,
• music,
• history of culture,
• history of religion,
• amateur performances,
• other subjects offered by school (and accepted by the Ministry of Education and Science).

Two different curricula
• basic (pamatkurss)
• advanced (profilkurss)
exist in each subject. Out of the 12 subjects, advanced curriculum (profilkurss) has to be chosen in at least 2.

To be awarded a certificate of general secondary education (atestats par visparejo videjo izglitibu) one has to
• complete the courses of all the 5 compulsory and at least 7 elective subjects;
• successfully pass 5 school leaving examinations, including:
1. 2 examinations in compulsory subjects (Latvian language and literature and another examination which is set nationally each year),
2. 3 examinations according to a free choice of the student.
1 out of these 5 examinations must be chosen at advanced level of the appropriate subject.
The certificate of general secondary education is accompanied by a list of marks which contains final marks in all at least 12 subjects taken and all the 5 examination marks. Level of the subject course is noted as
• profilkurss – advanced or
• pamatkurss – basic course.
All holders of general secondary education certificate are eligible for admission to higher education.

Vocational Education

Institutions of Vocational Education and Access to Higher Education
Name of school type in Latvian English translation Admission requirements duration of studies years general secondary education (yes/no)
arodpamatskola vocational basic school 9-year education may be incomplete 2 no
arodvidusskola vocational secondary school 9-year education 3 no
arodgimnazija vocational gymnasium 9-year education 4 yes
arodskola vocational school (postsecond.) general secondary education 1-2 no
As it is seen from the table, just one type of vocational schools – 4-year vocational schools – concurrently to vocational training provide general secondary education and, consequently, access to higher education.

Secondary Specialized Education

Secondary specialized education institutions have curricula for both
• holders of 9-year basic education certificate (atestвts par pamatizglмtмbu)- curriculum is 4 to 5 years long and concurrently provides general secondary education;
• holders of certificate of general secondary education, curriculum is 2 to 3 years long and mainly includes professional training.
Thus, regardless of the curriculum type, holders of diploma of specialized secondary education are eligible to enter higher education institutions.
Specialized secondary education institutions may be
• technical,
• music,
• art,
• nursing schools and else.
These schools may usually have names tehnikums, or koledza (college), but these having name koledza are renamed recently and one can still meet the older names such as muzikas vidusskola (music secondary school), makslas vidusskola (art secondary school), medicinas skola (nursing schools, direct transl. medical school).

The fate of the institutions of specialized secondary education, particularly their programs for holders of general secondary school certificate, is currently under question. Studies in these programs last 2-3 years after completion of general secondary schooling and are often high-level, therefore this kind of specialized secondary education could be compared to the “short-term non-university higher education” which is known in several European countries. At least, it seems that in this case one could speak about tertiary or post-secondary qualifications (such understandings dont exist in the current legislation of Latvia).

Access To Higher Education

In principle, access to higher education is general for all holders of general secondary education certificates. However, the institutions of higher education are free to determine which of the elective subjects must have been taken by the applicant at the secondary school in order to become eligible for admission to a chosen program.
There are no fixed all-Latvian rules determining the admission system and it may differ between different institutions and even between different faculties of the same institution of higher education.
The main forms of admission procedure may be as follows:
• 1 to 4 competitive entrance examinations;
• a competition of diplomas plus an interview by the Admission board, which may include general questions in subjects important to the chosen specialty;
• just a competition of diplomas (usually judging by the marks in subjects important to the chosen program and/or average mark in the secondary school certificate);
• knowledge of Latvian language is evaluated in these cases when the applicant has not had Latvian as the language of instruction in secondary school.
An admission board consisting of staff members is formed in all higher educational institutions to carry out admission procedures in accordance with conditions announced at least 5 months before.

Higher Education

In 1994 in Latvia 33,665 students studied in higher education programs. The percentage of students in the age group 19-24 was 14.5%. One has to be careful when interpreting these statistical data. The students of post-secondary programs of specialized secondary education are not included in these statistical data. In many countries this kind of education is treated as short-term non-university higher education, tertiary education, etc.
The institutions of higher education provide academic and/or profesional higher education.
Akademiska augstaka izglitiba – Academic higher educaiton is understood as a general higher education based upon fundamental and/or applied science. Academic education can be (and in most cases is) divided into two stages. A student has to perform a thesis of a research work at the end of each stage.

First degree
An academic degree and a diploma of Bakalaurs (translated into English as Bachelor of Science) can be awarded after successive completion of the first stage.
Degree Bakalaurs is an intermediate degree and can be treated as a completed higher education only in these cases when duration of program is 4+ years. However, part of the students leave universities having a Bakalaurs degree and find their gap in the labor market.

Second degree
Academic degree of Magistrs (translated into English as Master of Science) and the appropriate diploma is awarded after the second stage of academic education and should be treated as a complete university-type higher education.
Degree Magistrs or a degree equivalent to it (e.g. medical studies are of a level of maеistrs degree but name of degree maеistrs is not applicable) can be awarded after total duration of 5-7 years of university studies. Degree Magistrs (or equivalent) is required for admission to doctoral studies.

Higher degrees
There are two of doctoral degrees in Latvia
doktors which is comparable to degree of Ph.D.
Holders of degree Magistrs are eligible for doctoral studies and the degree doktors is expected to be achieved in a 3-4 year period of full-time doctoral studies after a public defense of doctoral thesis.
habilitets doktors
Degree habilitets doktors is awarded after defense of habilitation thesis which is usually a short summary of several important scientific and/or pedagogical publications or a monograph, written after defense of the first doctoral dissertation.
Doctoral degrees are awarded by specialized councils
• promocijas padome (promotion council) – awarding the degree doktors only
• habilitacijas padome (habilitation council) awarding both doctoral degrees.
The regulations for awarding of doctoral degrees are set and the promotion and habilitation councils are appointed by Latvijas Zinвtnes Padome (Latvian Science Council).

Profesionala augstaka izglitiba – Higher professional education is a higher education based upon applied science. It provides knowledge and skills for professional activities.
Acquirement of the programs of professional studies can take place independently of academic studies, concurrently to or after them.
Non-university type higher education institutions offer higher professional education programs leading directly to professional qualifications. To be treated as a completed higher education, the duration of professional studies has to be not less than 4 years.
University-type higher education institutions may offer 1-2 year programs leading to professional qualification after achieving of degree bakalaurs.
Development of higher education programs
Higher education study programs are worked out by the higher education institutions since the 1991 Education Act provided a broad autonomy to the higher education institutions. Thus, a study program of a higher education institution is usually worked out by the appropriate department (faculty) and then approved by the main decision-making body of the higher education institution which is usually called Senate.
Presently around 300 different study programs at undergraduate and graduate levels exist in the State recognized institutions. Because of the autonomy of institutions to decide about their programs, there is no uniform length of programs throughout the country. Thus, duration of a program leading to a degree of Bakalaurs may vary from 3 years to 4.5 years in different institutions.
A quality assessment process resulting in State accreditation of all the study programs is under development. It will begin after the Law on Higher education institutions will be adopted by the Saeima.
A tendency to work out a little more uniform higher education system is felt in all the three Baltic states. According to the Declaration on Cooperation in Quality Assurance of Higher Education in the Baltic States, which was signed by the ministers of education of the Baltic states on October 25, 1994, the quality assessment in all the three Baltic states is going to be carried out using international peers and the results of quality assessment will be published in all the Baltic region. However the binding decisions on accreditation of higher education institutions and their study programs will be left to national quality assurance bodies which are currently being established in each Baltic state.

Qualifications Awarded
Qualifications Awarded in Latvia’s Secondary Education

The institutions of general secondary education award certificates of general secondary education – atestats par visparejo izglitibu.
The institutions of vocational secondary education award diplomas of vocational education of a given level:
• diploms par arodpamatizglitibu – diploma of basic vocational education,
• diploms par videjo arodizglitibu – diploma of secondary vocational education.
If general secondary education is achieved concurrently to secondary vocational education, no separate certificate is issued but an entry iegustot visparejo videjo izglitibu is written into the diploma. Name of the appropriate profession is added.
The institutions of specialized secondary education award diplomas where it is stated that the holder has achieved a given professional qualification plus general secondary education.

Qualifications Awarded in Latvia’s Higher Education

1. qualifications in academic higher education
Level Comments
bakalaurs (bachelor) intermediate (undergraduate) degree bakalaurs is treated as a completed higher education if the duration of program is 4+ years.
The degree bakalaurs is awarded in:
• all the natural sciences,
• agriculture,
• architecture,
• art,
• business administration,
• commercial science,
• culture,
• economics,
• engineering,
• forestry,
• law,
• pedagogics,
• linguistics,
• philosophy,
• social science,
• theology.
(A name of sub-specialization is usually mentioned after the names of degree and the main field.)
magistrs (master) graduate Awarded in: -see all the same fields in which the degree bakalaurs is awarded plus veterinary medicine.
doktors (doctor, Ph.D.) post-graduate (doctoral) awarded in the following fields of science:
1.Agriculture 9.Forestry 18.Pharmacy
2.Architecture 10.Geography 19.Philosophy
3.Art 11.Geology 20.Physics
4.Biology 12.History 21.Political sci.
5.Chemistry 13.Law 22.Psychology
6.Computer sci. 14.Linguistics 23.Sociology
7.Economics 15.Mathematics 24.Theology
8.Engineering 16.Medicine 25.Veterinary
habilitets doktors (habilited doctor) post-doctoral (second doctoral) awarded in the same fields of science as the degree doktors.

2. Qualifications in professional higher education
Name of qualification Comments
agronoms agronomer undergraduate qualification
arsts physician graduate qualification, equal level to degree magistrs, eligible for doctoral studies
ekonomists economist undergraduate qualification
farmaceits pharmacist graduate qualification, equal level to degree magistrs, eligible for doctoral studies
inzenieris engineer can be either:
– a graduate qualification awarded after completing of the bakalaurs program in engineering plus 1.5-2 years of professional studies or
– a qualification awarded after 4 years of professional studies without academic education.
izpilditajmakslinieks performing artist a qualification awarded after professional studies in music specialties. Name of specialty added to the name of qualification.
makslinieks artist a qualification awarded after professional studies in art specialties. Name of specialty added to the name of qualification.
praktiskais inzenieris practical engineer a qualification awarded after completing specially designed 3-year engineering programs at universities for those having specialized secondary education in engineering.
socialais darbinieks social worker undergraduate qualification
skolotajs teacher may be awarded in different cases:
– to those who have taken courses in pedagogics concurrently to their studies in academic programs of bakalaurs and magistrs
– to those who have taken a professional teacher training program,
– to those who take a teachers training program after already having a higher education in a given field.
Name(s) of subject(s) to teach in school are given after the name of qualification. If the qualification allows to teach in a certain grades of school only, it is also added to the qualification, e.g. teacher of mathematics in grades 1-4.
stomatologs dentist graduate qualification, equal level to degree magistrs, eligible for doctoral studies
tehnologs technologist undergraduate professional qualification, in some cases a bakalaurs degree in agriculture or engineering can be achieved concurrently.
veterinararsts a professional qualification eligible for admission to studies in the program of magistrs.

Institutions of Higher Education

The quality assessment/accreditation process in Latvia is at its initial stage and the draft rules of accreditation are still a subject of discussion. For this reason one can not divide the institutions into accredited an non-accredited ones yet.
According to the Education Act the only way how to strictly judge about State recognition of an institution is to look whether the Statute (Satversme in Latvian) of the institution is approved by the State. However, it is not always quite correct to treat an institution as non-recognized by the State before its Statute is approved by the State. For instance, there are several recently established State-founded and State-financed institutions, which can be ready for complete accreditation procedure in a couple of years and which therefore dont have a State approved Statute, but still the State as the founder takes the responsibility for the quality of education.
Part of the state higher institutions, such as all the institutions bearing the name of University, Medical, Art and Music Academies and several others are traditional well-established institutions.
Some others, such as Riga Pedagogical Higher School, Rezekne Higher School and some more are recently established State-founded and State-financed institutions, which may have a State approved statute or not, but which are on their way to meet accreditation standards. The State as the founder has to take responsibility on the quality of education in these institutions and therefore the institutions are to some extent “unofficially recognized” by the State.
Names and number of students in state higher education institutions of Latvia
Number of Students 1994 admission
Full-time day Extra-mural Total Full-time day Extra-mural Total
1. University of Latvia 6204 3657* 9851 1639 585 2224
2. Riga Technical University 5452 1027* 6479 2403 127 2530
3. Latvia University of Agriculture 2846 1442 4288 800 262 1062
4. Latvian Academy of Medicine 1973 – 1973 199 – 199
5. Daugavpils Pedagogical University 1739 361 2100 496 50 546
6. Riga Aviation University 2312 248 2560 625 97 722
7. Liepaja Pedagogical Higher School 980 401 1381 269 – 269
8. Latvian Academy of Sports Pedag. 626 300 926 190 92 282
9. Latvian Maritime Academy 274 96 370 109 9 118
10. Police Academy of Latvia. 114 66 180 110 10 120
11. National Academy of Defense 175 – 175 117 – 117
12. Rezekne Higher School 622 139 761 250 56 306
13. Latvia Academy of Culture 348 17 365 106 9 115
14. J.Vitols Latvian Academy of Music 360 – 360 101 – 101
15. Latvian Academy of Arts 537 3 540 107 – 107
16. Stockholm School of Economics in Riga 56 – 56 56 – 56
17. Riga Pedagogical Higher School 1116 184 1300 255 184 439
Total: 25734 – 33665 7832 – 9313

*including the remaining evening students
Stockholm School of Economics in Riga is a special case – it was founded by an agreement between the governments of Sweden and Latvia and is financed from the budgets of both states. The tuition in this School will be almost exclusively carried out by the staff members of the Stockholm School of Economics and a gradual overtake by a Latvian staff is foreseen in an approximately 10-year long period.

Private higher education institutions
The 1991 Education Act allowed to establish private higher education institutions. Since then a dozen of private institutions have taken a license to begin higher education activities (such a license does not mean any State recognition), mainly in the fields of business, psychology and religion. The total number of students in the private institutions is estimated around 3000.
Most of the private institutions do not have strong sources of funding behind, all their income consists of tuition fees, therefore the private institutions share common problems – very little permanent staff, very little or no own libraries, no research carried out by the staff and consequently, by students, etc.
Main part of tuition in most of the private institutions is carried out by the academic staff of the State universities employed on part-time basis, therefore the quality of tuition is not necessarily low. There is even an opinion that these small private institutions might sometimes be more flexible in curriculum development. Because of the problems mentioned above, the quality assessment of these institutions can not be expected as an immediate act but rather as a long-term process. However, before accreditation of the licensed private institutions and their study programs the State can not take any responsibility on the quality of education in these instituions.