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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 04.07.2020, 04:21

Latvia: The Venice Commission considers that a fair balance between minority rights and promotion of the state language should be struck

BC, Riga/Strasbourg, 19.06.2020.Print version
In an opinion adopted today on the recent amendments to education legislation in minority languages in Latvia, the Venice Commission considers that it is necessary to ensure a fair balance between the protection of the rights of minorities and their languages and the promotion of the state language.

These amendments are part of a long-standing reform of the Latvian education system, comprising gradual changes in the use of the state language and minority languages – especially Russian − in favour of the state language, in order to foster its mastering amongst pupils attending minority education programmes.

While increasing the mandatory proportion of the Latvian language, the new legislation leaves ample room for instruction in minority languages at the level of basic education, and some room for such instruction in secondary education. This is to be "welcomed," according to the opinion. However, whether the minority education system as redesigned will enable persons enrolled on these programmes to attain a high level of proficiency in their mother tongue depends especially on the availability and quality of teachers and teaching materials.

The Venice Commission also underlines that the system introduced by the recent legislation for pre-school education needs to be "reconsidered" in order to ensure that persons belonging to national minorities will continue to enjoy the possibility of acquiring proficiency in their language, which is essential for the protection and promotion of the identity of minorities as well as for the preservation of the linguistic diversity within the Latvian society.

In order to ensure a balance, the Venice Commission recommends to:

  • Amend Cabinet Regulation No. 716 in order to return to the previous "bilingual approach" in play-based lessons applied to the whole period of pre-school education;
  • Take the necessary legislative and other measures to ensure that state schools offer a minority education programme whenever there is enough demand for it;
  • Exempt private schools from the mandatory proportions of the use of the Latvian language applied to state schools implementing minority education programmes;
  • Consider enlarging the possibilities for persons belonging to national minorities to have access to higher education in their minority language, either in their own higher education institutions, or at least in state higher education institutions;

  • Constantly monitor the quality of education received by pupils attending minority education programmes, provide schools concerned with the necessary teaching materials and allow teachers to continue to improve their Latvian and minority language skills.

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