Chapter 1. Latvia and its education system

This chapter provides a brief description of Latvia’s education system and the context in which it operates. Since independence in 1991, Latvia has experienced continuing demographic decline. Income inequality is relatively high, and not all groups have benefited equally from its recent economic recovery. Latvia has high levels of access to and participation in school and student performance has been improving.

Latvia faces a number of policy challenges. It has developed a highly decentralised education system which has proved both a strength and a weakness. Funding levels are low by OECD standards and fell further during the economic crisis. The education system needs to increase its efficiency and adjust to a declining population and an ageing teaching workforce. Finally, Latvia needs to improve the data it gathers about the education system and improve its ability to use that data in order to improve its education system for the future.



The Republic of Latvia is a country in northeast Europe that is situated on the Baltic Sea. It is bordered by Estonia to its north, Lithuania to the south, and the Russian Federation and Belarus to the east. The country had about 2 million inhabitants in 2014 (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2015) in four historical and cultural regions: Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme and Latgale. About one-third of the population reside in Latvia’s capital city, Riga, and one-third in rural areas. Latvia became a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004.

Latvia is a parliamentary republic established in 1918 which regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Legislative power is in the hands of the Saeima, a single-chamber parliament with 100 deputies. The head of the state is the president, who is elected by the parliament for a period of four years. The president signs laws, nominates the prime minister (who leads the government) and performs representative functions. After elections, the Cabinet of Ministers, the highest executive body, adopts a Declaration of Intended Activities which is then transformed into the government’s Action Plan. This plan defines the main results to be delivered by the respective ministries, including the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES).

Latvia’s 110 local governments (novadi) and 9 large “republican cities” (republikas pilsētas) have their own council and administration. Each of these 119 municipalities has significant responsibility and autonomy for public service delivery. They vary considerably in size, ranging from Riga, with about 643 600 residents, to the municipality (novads) of Baltinava with about 1 200 residents. The current administrative structure is the result of a territorial reform in 2009 in which the number of municipalities was reduced from over 500 through amalgamation.

The Latvian population is composed of several ethnic groups. In 2014, it consisted of 61.4% Latvians and 26.0% ethnic Russians with smaller minorities of Belarusians (3.4%), Ukrainians (2.3%), Poles (2.2%), and other small minorities (4.7%) (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2015). While Latvia has always had a multi-ethnic society, Latvians have always been the largest ethnic group over the past century, and the proportion of Latvians has considerably increased during the past two decades. This is due to large-scale emigration of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians whose numbers almost halved between 1989 and 2011 (Hazans, 2013; OECD, 2014a).

For several decades Latvia has experienced a constant decline in population. By 2013 it had lost 276 000 residents since 2003 (14%) and 562 000 since 1992 (22%). This development is due to several factors: an ageing population, low fertility rate (1.52 children per woman in 2013) which for many years has been considerably below the replacement level (Eurostat, 2015a) and fierce emigration which was fuelled by the economic recession of 2008-10. Of the adult emigrants that left between 2000 and 2011 three-quarters were younger than 35 at the time of their departure, including many who were relatively well educated (Hazans, 2013). According to government forecasts, the decline will continue in the years to come, especially among working-age residents. Only since 2011 have migration indicators started to improve, with emigration rates falling, coupled with an increase in immigrants. Latvia is also experiencing internal migration (Figure 1.1), mostly from rural to urban areas with approximately 40% of the flow going to the city of Riga (Krišjāne and Lāce, 2012). These changing demographics have considerable implications for the planning of public services in Latvia.

Figure 1.1. Internal migration in Latvia (2007-12)

Source: State Regional Development Agency (2012), Development of Regions in Latvia 2011, State Regional Development Agency, Riga,

Latvia has experienced a volatile macroeconomic climate in recent years. The economy has rebounded strongly from a deep recession between 2008 and 2010 that followed a boom in real estate and the financial sector in the years before, due in part to EU accession in 2004. Since 2011, its economic growth has been one of the highest in the European Union. The competitiveness of the Latvian economy is underpinned by low labour costs which in 2013 were at 38% of the EU average (Ministry of Economics, 2014a).

Despite a steady increase since 2010, Latvian gross domestic product (GDP) still remains low in international terms both overall and per capita. As of 2013, its GDP per capita was EUR 11 600, just 55% of the best-performing OECD countries (OECD, 2015a). It remains below most EU countries including Estonia and Lithuania, and was less than half of the average of the 28 EU member states (EU-28) (Eurostat, 2015b).

Although the bulk of the country’s economic activity is in the service sector, exports recovered strongly following the crisis and have played a major part in Latvia’s recovery. In 2013 the export share of tradable sectors (agriculture, forestry, industry and transport) had increased by almost 10% over 2008 levels. By 2012 exports were 51% higher than their pre-recession peak in 2008 and have gained an increasing market share (Vanags, 2013). In 2012, Latvia’s most important trading partners were Lithuania (18% of total trade turnover), followed by Estonia, Germany and the Russian Federation (10% each) (LIAA, 2014).

The recent recovery is also reflected in improved labour market indicators. The unemployment rate for the total labour force (aged 15 to 74), which reached a peak of 19.5% in 2010, dropped to 10.8% in 2014 (Eurostat, 2015c) (Figure 1.2). While youth unemployment is also decreasing, it is still higher than in other age groups: 19.6% of 15-24 year-olds were unemployed in 2014 which was higher than the OECD average of 15.0% (OECD, 2015b).

Figure 1.2. Unemployment rate and real GDP growth in Latvia, compared to EU-28 average, percentage (2006-13)

Sources: Eurostat (2015c), “Total unemployment rate”, Eurostat database,; Eurostat (2015b), “Real GDP growth rate”, Eurostat database,

In 2012, 86% of 25-64 year-olds with a general tertiary qualification and 92% with a professional tertiary qualification were employed in Latvia. Among adults with just an upper secondary qualification the rate was 66%. For adults with only a lower secondary qualification this percentage was 53% (OECD, 2014b). The educational profile of the unemployed shows that vocational and general upper secondary education graduates represent over 60% of the unemployed, those with basic education another 20%. Among the economically inactive, those with only basic education dominate (OECD, 2015a).

National minorities were hit disproportionally by the economic crisis in terms of employment. The factors behind these outcomes have not yet been fully identified, but work experience and skill sets, including relatively weaker Latvian language ability, are likely to be relevant (OECD, forthcoming, 2015a; Falco et al., 2015a; Lehmann and Zaiceva, 2015).

Despite the improved economic situation in recent years, unemployment rates in Latvia are still above OECD and EU-28 averages despite improvements in recent years, with various sources pointing to emerging skills mismatches (IMF, 2014; OECD, 2015a). A recent OECD report (2015a) concluded that given the low participation of adults in lifelong learning – in 2014 a mere 5.5% of 25-64 year-olds participated in both formal and non-formal education and training – and persistent informality within the Latvian economy, many of the working-age population lack the skills to become more productive.

Poverty and inequality remain major challenges for Latvia. In 2014, 32.7% of the population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion which is considerably lower than three years before (40.1%) but still much higher than the EU-28 average of 24.5% (2013) (Eurostat, 2015d). Income inequality is also high compared with EU and OECD countries (Zasova and Zdanovica, 2014; OECD, 2015a; Eurostat, 2015e). Spending to protect the most vulnerable is low, with social spending amounting to only about 15% of GDP, compared to the EU average of 28%. Relatively low levels of income redistribution and the fact that a number of benefits are universal (state family benefit, childcare benefit, child birth grant) have resulted in a greater proportion of social benefits going to the richest quintile than to the poorest. This suggests the need for better targeting (OECD, 2015a).

Considerable disparities also exist between regions and municipalities. The Latgale region in particular has many disadvantaged municipalities, with high unemployment rates, low tax revenue and negative migration flows. In 1995 the Financial Equalisation Fund was established to address regional inequalities and there is also special state funding for municipalities with the lowest estimated revenue per inhabitant after financial equalisation. Nevertheless, regional disparities still remain substantial (OECD, 2015a). The government in 2015 adopted a new local government financial equalisation law that will be applied to the local government equalisation calculation for 2016 and subsequent years. The new system is based on revised principles to evaluate demographic criteria, average local-government incomes and proportionate distribution of subsidies from the state budget so as to bring all local governments closer to the level of those with the highest incomes per capita. It also takes into consideration projected personal income tax revenues, property tax revenues and macroeconomic forecasts.

Latvia has also developed a polycentric development policy aimed at strengthening the competitiveness, accessibility and attractiveness of the 30 largest urban areas (Figure 1.3):

  • 9 national development centres – republican cities or urban municipalities (more than 20 thousand inhabitants, of which 5 have more than 50 thousand inhabitants).

  • 21 regional development centres – towns in urban-rural municipalities (5 to 20 thousand inhabitants).

This network of centres is intended to provide a territorially balanced distribution of functional urban areas across Latvia, providing jobs and public services to all residents in urban and rural areas, and driving growth in the regions.

Under the polycentric development policy, Latvia has defined a set (“basket”) of public services for each level of settlement – national, regional, local development centres and rural areas. Provision of basic services is made as close as possible to the people while other services are concentrated in the 30 largest urban areas. The framework aims to support the rationalisation and amalgamation of services in particular sectors (e.g. health, culture, sports, education and social care) at each level of settlement. The European Union is financially supporting the implementation of the framework (MoES, 2015).

The National Development Plan 2014-2020 (CSCC, 2012) addresses income inequalities through measures which include decreasing the tax burden for low-income households and promoting family support services, as well as fighting youth unemployment. Promoting high-quality vocational education, lifelong learning and tertiary education are key components of Latvia’s strategy to reduce inequalities in income and poverty and bring prosperity throughout Latvia.

Figure 1.3. The Latvian polycentric development structure

Source: Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (2010), Teritoriālā pieeja atbalsta plānošanā un sniegšanā [Territorial Approach in Planning and Providing Support], Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, Riga,

The Latvian education system – a brief overview

The Latvian education system is relatively small. In the school year 2013/14, there were 423 389 children and students enrolled in the Latvian education system (Table 1.1). This number has decreased considerably in the past decades as a result of ongoing demographic decline and emigration.

Table 1.1. The Latvian education system – Overview in numbers


Number of teaching/academic staff

Educational level





Early childhood and care (pre-school)

74 968

93 533

8 211

9 703

General education

298 516

209 130

28 323

23 114

Basic education (Grades 1-9)

217 038

160 400

19 799

16 039

Upper secondary education (Grades 10-12)

57 218

30 375

5 528

4 609

Special education schools

9 691

7 088

1 955

1 773

Evening schools (Grades 1-12)

14 569

11 267

1 041


Vocational education

42 737

31 055

3 932

3 329

Higher education and college

131 125

89 671

4 682

4 888

Source: Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2015), Statistical Yearbook Latvia 2014, Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, Riga,

Latvia provides a legal entitlement to early childhood education and care (ECEC) for all children from 1.5 years of age throughout the country. ECEC was made compulsory for 5- and 6-year-olds in 2002 and is considered part of general education (Eurypedia, 2015). ECEC in Latvia is commonly referred to as “pre-school education” and is defined holistically, encompassing the cognitive, socio-emotional and health development of the child. In 2013/14, 93 533 children were enrolled in ECEC institutions, with minority-language programmes available in some institutions.

Figure 1.4 outlines the structure of education in Latvia. Compulsory single-structure basic education lasts from Grades 1 to 9 (age 7 to 16) and is divided into 6 years of primary education and 3 years of lower secondary education. Transition to the next class takes place automatically as there are no examinations to pass from one class to the next. Basic education ends after Grade 9 with final examinations in students’ first language, the Latvian language for students in minority schools, mathematics, Latvian history and a foreign language, leading to the award of a certificate which is needed for entry into upper secondary education.

Figure 1.4. The Latvian education system

Source: ReferNet Latvia (2014), VET in Europe – Country Report Latvia, Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training),

Although it is not compulsory, most students in Latvia go on to obtain an upper secondary education (Grades 10 to 12). Upper secondary education is provided in general and vocational pathways and on a full-time or part-time basis. Students may choose the most suitable institution for upper secondary schooling.

The various vocational upper secondary education programmes take between two and four years to complete and lead to different qualification levels. Only a few schools offer lower secondary vocational education. Most vocational education programmes start at upper secondary level and are concentrated in the republican cities and larger towns.

To improve the attractiveness, quality and labour market relevance of vocational education, in 2009 the government introduced reforms including consolidation of the vocational school network, the introduction of work-based learning and the development of occupational standards (OECD, 2015a). The government aims to equalise participation rates in general and vocational upper secondary education by 2020 (MoES, 2014). In 2013, 39% of upper secondary students were in vocational programmes, which is lower than the 2012 OECD and EU averages of 44% and 50% respectively (OECD, 2014b).

Students in general upper secondary education who pass the final exams are awarded the certificate of general secondary education which they need to enter tertiary education. Vocational upper secondary students who pass the final exams are awarded a diploma of vocational education and a professional qualification. Those students who have completed a three-year vocational education programme first need to successfully complete a fourth year (“bridge year”) of study before gaining access to tertiary education.

Latvia has a diverse and comparatively autonomous tertiary education sector and almost two-thirds of upper secondary graduates (62.8% in 2012) go on to tertiary education. Nevertheless student numbers have decreased significantly in the past decade, to fewer than 90 000 in 2013/14 (65 000 of whom were studying full-time). This is a decline of more than 40 000 compared to 8 years before. In the same period however the number of tertiary education institutions and colleges grew from 57 to 60 (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2015).

In 2013/14, 27% of tertiary students were in private institutions, which is higher than in many OECD countries (the OECD average was 15% in 2012) (OECD, 2014b). The state funds a pre-defined number of free study places (40% in 2014/15), while the majority of students (60%) pay tuition fees. The most popular programmes are social sciences, business and law, followed by engineering.

Teachers and school leaders

In 2013/14, there were 41 034 full-time equivalent teachers and academic personnel in service (see Table 1.1) of which the great majority were women. This represents a drop of approximately 9% from 2005/6. The Latvian government manages the supply of new teachers by forecasting the demand for newly qualified teachers and by setting state-funded study places for teacher students on a yearly basis, taking into consideration budget restraints. The number of teacher students has decreased during the last decade, but not as quickly as the decline in student numbers.

Latvia has an ageing educational workforce. In 2012, 35% of education staff at the primary level and 45% at the lower and upper secondary level were over 50 (Eurostat, 2014a). The country is unlikely to be faced with drastic shortages of teachers and academic staff, however, due to the projected decline in student numbers in the coming years.

Working in education is generally not considered an attractive career option in Latvia and the sector consequently struggles to attract young talent. Salaries are low and the career structure is flat. The salary of a lower secondary teacher who has been in service for 15 years amounts to just 52% of GDP per capita (corrected for differences in purchasing power parities) while their peers in OECD countries, with similar experience, receive on average 124% of GDP per capita (OECD, 2013a). Further, while teachers and academic staff are considered to be part of the civil service in most OECD countries, this is not the case in Latvia.

The Latvian government has therefore made “raising motivation and professional capacity of teachers and academic personnel” a priority (MoES, 2014). Several measures have been taken recently to help achieve this objective including the piloting of a new teacher remuneration system and the implementation of a teacher appraisal system, which is described in Chapter 3.

Main trends in access, quality and equity

During the last two decades Latvia has made good progress in expanding participation in education. While the number of students decreased considerably in absolute terms as a result of ongoing demographic decline, the share of the population in education has grown considerably since the mid-1990s. Children in Latvia start school young, younger than in many OECD countries, and the majority continue on to tertiary education. In Latvia more than eight out of ten young adults are expected to enter a tertiary-type A programme during the course of their life (OECD, 2014b). National and international data show improvements in average student performance although they still point towards considerable disparities in learning opportunities. Latvia recognises these equity concerns and is committed to implementing its inclusive education policy, targeting two main groups: children and youth at risk of exclusion due to their development, abilities or health condition; and those at risk of exclusion due to social conditions (MoES, 2014).

High levels of access and participation

Following a period of decline in the early 1990s, when a severe recession struck the country after gaining independence, participation in education started to recover in the mid-1990s. Since then Latvia has seen a gradual expansion of participation in education, particularly at those levels where participation had been relatively low.

Participation in ECEC is high and starts early. Between 2000 and 2013, the net enrolment rate in ECEC for 3-6 year-olds increased from 55% to 91% (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2015a). In particular, there was a remarkable increase in participation from 2002 when ECEC was made compulsory for 5- and 6-year-olds. In 2013 the average Latvian child entering primary education had enjoyed 3.7 years of ECEC, compared to an OECD average of 2.3 years. This shows that participation in ECEC is high and starts at an early age. Participation rates are above the OECD average for 3- and 4-year-olds. In 2012, 87% of 4-year-olds and 80% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in some form of ECEC, compared to OECD averages of 84% and 70% respectively (OECD, 2014b).

Enrolment in primary and lower secondary education is close to universal and has been for many years. In 2013, the total net enrolment rate was 99% for the primary level and 97% for the lower secondary level (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2015b). In 2012, 90% of young people were expected to complete upper secondary education over their lifetime, compared to the OECD average of 84% (OECD, 2014b).

The proportion of 25-64 year-olds who had obtained a tertiary degree in 2013 (31%) was only slightly below the OECD average (32.6%). The proportion of 30-34 year-olds with a tertiary degree has increased steadily over the past decade and by 2013 had surpassed the 40% target set by the Latvian government for 2020 (MoES, 2014). As in most OECD countries, students in tertiary education tend to favour academic tertiary programmes over professional ones. In 2012 84% of young adults were expected to enter an academic tertiary programme tertiary while just 25% of students were entering professional tertiary programmes. Latvia has a lower rate of entry into advanced tertiary education (2.1% in 2012) than the OECD average (2.6%) (OECD, 2014b).

Latvia’s school life expectancy from the primary through to tertiary education level increased from 14.2 years to 15.6 years between 2000 and 2013, which is similar to the increase across OECD countries during the same period (from 14.5 years to 16.1 years on average) (World Bank, 2015).

The school system is comprehensive up to the end of lower secondary, with few students repeating grades, high transition rates between lower and upper secondary, and low numbers leaving school early. In 2011/12 for example the share of primary and lower secondary students repeating a year had fallen to 1.7% from 2.5% the year before. In 2012, 95% of students who completed lower secondary education continued into upper secondary education (MoES, 2015).

Dropping out and early school leaving are more frequent in the vocational pathway, which has been suffering from a lack of attractiveness and quality (MoES, 2014). An analysis of MoES statistics reveals that the average annual non-completion rate of students in general upper secondary programmes was 1.8% in 2012/13. By contrast, average annual dropout rates across vocational education programmes have ranged from 13% to 16% over the last few years. At programme lengths of around three years, this implies that less than two-thirds of students who enrol in a vocational education programme finish the course (OECD, 2015c).

Nonetheless the data also show Latvia has made good progress in reducing the numbers leaving school early. The proportion of early school leavers declined from 14.3% in 2009 to 8.5% in 2014 (Eurostat, 2015f). In addition Latvia has also embarked on a reform of vocational education to improve its attractiveness, quality and relevance. It is believed this reform will contribute to reducing early leaving among vocational education students.

Despite high participation in formal education, lifelong learning is not very well developed in Latvia. In 2013, 6.5% of Latvian adults aged 25 to 64 participated in formal and non-formal lifelong learning, well below the EU average of 10.5% (Eurostat, 2015g). Latvia is expected to face shortages in the coming decades of workers with medium and higher level vocational education and among senior specialists in science and engineering, information and communications technology (ICT), agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. At the same time it will have an oversupply of specialists in human and social sciences. Policy makers are aware of this imbalance and as a response have set in motion a number of reforms (OECD, forthcoming). Promoting lifelong learning plays a key role in addressing the imbalance, but this is an area where much more work remains to be done (see Chapter 4).

Improvements in average student performance

Latvian students perform relatively well in international comparisons. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) provides benchmarks for average student performance across education systems. Latvia has participated in all PISA cycles since the first assessment in 2000. In the assessment in 2012, Latvian students reached the PISA average in science but were below the OECD average in reading and mathematics. Latvia made significant progress between 2000 and 2003 with only a slight improvement observed after that (Figure 1.5). Other international studies, including the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) in 2001 and 2006, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) confirm the positive development in the performance of Latvian students since the start of the millennium (OECD, 2014c).

Figure 1.5. PISA performance across all subjects (2000-12)

Source: OECD (2014c), PISA 2012 Results (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014): What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Latvia has a relatively narrow spread in scores in all the three PISA subjects, with fewer top-performing students (proficiency level 5 or 6) and low-performing students (below proficiency level 2) compared to the OECD average (Table 1.2). Although the shares of top performers have not changed much over time, Latvia saw a significant reduction in the shares of low-performing students in reading (between 2000 and 2012) and in science (between 2006 and 2012). The Latvian government has set policy objectives and targets to further reduce the proportion of low performers and increase the proportion of top performers by the year 2020, with respect to the European Education and Training 2020 Strategy (Table 1.2). Meeting these will require further improvements in teaching and learning (see Chapter 3).

Table 1.2. Percentage of students at PISA proficiency levels, PISA 2012

Low performing students (below level 2)

Top performing students (level 5 or 6)














OECD average







Latvia 2020 targets







Source: OECD (2014c), PISA 2012 Results (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014): What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Attainment rates and labour market outcomes give an indication of the ability of an education system to develop individuals who can support their country’s social and economic development. Upper secondary attainment has always been high across generations in Latvia but younger adults now have higher tertiary attainment rates than previous generations. In 2012 for example 39% of 25-34 year-olds had attained a tertiary education, compared with 22% of 55-64 year-olds (OECD, 2014b; MoES, 2015).

Though the data on earnings advantages for different levels of education were not available while writing this report, data on employment rates suggest significant labour market advantages from obtaining a tertiary education. Employment rates for tertiary education graduates in Latvia are comparable to the top OECD performers. In 2012, 86% of tertiary-educated Latvian people were employed, against an OECD average of 83%. Yet, graduates of lower levels of education lag behind. The employment rate of Latvian people with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education was 67%, below the OECD average of 74%. The employment rate is lower among individuals with general upper secondary education than for individuals with vocational upper secondary education, which is also the case in most OECD countries (OECD, 2014b).

Striving for equity in student performance

The Latvian government is committed to implementing the principle of “inclusive education” which it defines as a process in which the diverse needs of all learners are met by increasing the opportunities for every learner to participate in the learning process, culture and various communities and reducing the chances of exclusion from education and the educational process (MoES, 2014).

Latvia has implemented a range of initiatives to put these principles into practice and tackle disparities in education access and learning. All children have a legal entitlement to ECEC from 1.5 years of age. Municipalities provide free meals for children from poor families attending ECEC and if the municipality’s financial capacity allows for it they provide free meals for all children. Compulsory basic education and upper secondary education is free and costs to households are low due to policies such as free school meals for Grades 1 to 4 and free transport for children in remote areas.

Latvia provides considerable support for ethnic minority languages, education and culture. The aim of Latvia’s bilingual education policy is to give all basic education graduates a good knowledge of both Latvian and their own native language. The government has developed and financed its bilingual education model by providing publicly funded education in seven minority languages: Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Estonian, and Lithuanian.

At the basic education level bilingual schools are entitled to determine which subjects are taught in Latvian. The basic education standards provide five different models for combining subjects in Latvian and a minority language. At the upper secondary education level, however, 60% of all subjects are taught in Latvian in the minority language stream (UNESCO, 2015; MoES, 2015).

Despite these and other policy measures, disparities in access to education and performance remain. Although the relationship between students’ socio-economic background and performance in PISA 2012 was close to the OECD average, there is a significant performance gap between students in rural and urban areas in Latvia. Urban students outperform rural students by 52 points in mathematics, the equivalent of more than a year of schooling. After accounting for socio-economic status, a significant performance gap of 21 points remains. This suggests that the quality of education is one of the factors contributing to disadvantage. TIMSS and PIRLS showed similarly significant differences in the performance of Grade 4 students in urban and rural areas, and the gap has persisted and widened over time (Johansone, 2010; Geske et al., 2006). This issue is discussed further in Chapter 3.

Low educational attainment is a factor closely associated with being not in employment, education or training (NEET), as in other countries. Some 30% of those who are NEET in Latvia have only attained below upper secondary education (OECD, 2015c). Across the OECD, NEETs tend to come from disadvantaged families and this is also the case for Latvia. In Latvia, the maximum educational attainment of NEETs’ parents is on average 0.4 levels lower, using the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) levels, than that of non-NEETs’ parents, which is comparable to the situation in OECD countries. Parents’ employment status also differs between NEETs and non-NEETs. In Latvia, in 16% of cases where a young NEET lives with their parents, neither of the parents is in work, compared to 10% for non-NEETs.

Figure 1.6. Mean mathematics performance in PISA 2012, by school location, after accounting for socio-economic status

Countries are ranked in order of mean performance of all students, after accounting for socio-economic status.

Source: OECD (2013c), PISA 2012 Results: Excellence through Equity (Volume II): Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

At the tertiary level there are concerns that the merit-based selection process for free study places limits the chances of students from disadvantaged backgrounds continuing their studies. Government-funded monthly stipends are also awarded to the highest-achieving students in the programme. It is feared that such a purely merit-based funding system exacerbates inequities (World Bank, 2014).

Females tend to outperform males in Latvia on a number of education-related indicators. In PISA 2012, girls performed better than boys in all three of the subjects, particularly in reading and science (OECD, 2014c). There is also a substantial gender gap and regional gap in the number of dropouts from secondary education. Dropout rates remain high for young boys, and early school-leaving rates1 are about twice as high in rural areas as in urban areas (OECD, 2015c). Tertiary attainment is also generally higher for women, and the difference is larger than the OECD average. The tertiary attainment rate for 25-64 year-olds was 36% for women and 21% for men in 2012, while the OECD averages were 34% and 30% respectively. Among younger adults, the difference was even more marked: tertiary attainment rates for 25-34 year-olds were 51% for women and 26% for men (the OECD averages were 44% and 34% respectively) (OECD, 2014b). Striving for gender equality with a focus on boys and young men may help widen Latvia’s talent pool and achieve its inclusive education ambitions and other education objectives.

As with some other OECD and EU countries, child poverty is an important issue for Latvia. Despite good progress in recent years, a sizable proportion of Latvia’s youth (children under the age of 18) were still at risk of poverty and social exclusion: 35.3% in 2014, down from 44.1% in 2011. The Latvian government is committed to reducing socio-economic and regional disparities and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. With the support of EU and other funding it is continuing to implement a range of activities to develop the support system and proper education infrastructure necessary to provide these at-risk youth and youth with special education needs with a quality education (MoES, 2014).

For example, for the period 2014-20 the government intends to provide grants and other support to schools to support students in primary education who are identified as at risk of social exclusion. In the previous EU funding period (2007-13) the infrastructure of 36 general education schools and 61 special education schools was customised for children with special needs, including 13 special education schools in 2013 (MoES, 2015).

The evidence however also suggests much more needs to be done to better support the learning of students with special education needs and integrate them into regular classes where possible. The data showed that in 2013/14 fewer than 4 out of 10 students (35%) with special education needs were integrated in regular schools (MoES, 2015).

Cross-cutting issues in Latvia’s education system

The Latvian National Development Plan 2014-2020 (CSCC, 2012), determines the medium-term priorities in the field of education and science. Its strategic objectives “Development of Competencies” and “Advanced Research and Innovation and Higher Education” emphasise competence development and improvement of research, innovations, and higher education (Box 1.1). These strategic objectives have been further elaborated in the Educational Development Guidelines 2014-2020 (MoES, 2014) which sets out the overarching goal and sub-goals for the development of the education system to be achieved by 2020.

Box 1.1. Latvia’s education priorities for the period 2014-20

According to the Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020, the overarching goal of the education system is to provide its citizens with a “quality and inclusive education for personal development, human welfare and sustainable development of the country”. This document sets out the goal and sub-goals for the development of the education system and the directions (“lines of action”) for their implementation, as well as the corresponding performance indicators and desired results. The guidelines define three sub-goals in accordance with the analysis of the issues identified in the previous planning period (2007-2013) and future challenges.

  1. Education environment: To increase the quality of the education environment by optimising the content and developing a suitable infrastructure. The environmental quality of education at all educational levels is determined by its content, promotion of improvement and strengthening of individual knowledge, competences and skills, and professional and competent teaching personnel that pass this educational content to students; a modern educational environment; educational processes that promote comprehension and acquisition of the content; and the embodiment of inclusive education principles envisaging equal opportunities irrespective of needs and abilities, property status, social status, race, nationality, sex, religion and political beliefs, health conditions, place of residence, and occupation of students in an available, respectful, and supportive environment.

  2. Individual skills: To promote development of individual’s professional and social skills based on values education for life and competitiveness in the work environment. Professional and social skills are improved in the most purposeful way when an individual chooses an appropriate professional growth direction for the future, providing support mechanisms for schools and education leavers at the same time, thus increasing the overall education level and employment of Latvian society, while promoting the civic co-responsibility and social activity of students as a result of measures outside formal education, as well as strengthening the principle of lifelong learning.

  3. Effective management: To improve efficiency of resource management by development of institutional excellence and resource consolidation of educational institutions. Improving resource management efficiency at the national, regional and local level by developing institutional excellence, including the introduction of education quality supervision or monitoring that will enable all interested parties to track, evaluate, and consequently affect education-related processes and results; optimisation of financing models; provision of education availability; and improvement of the international competitiveness of education.

These sub-goals are converted into 12 lines of action. Building on these lines of action, the guidelines include a framework with performance indicators and targets to be achieved by the years 2017 and 2020. MoES monitors and evaluates progress against these indicators.

Source: MoES (2014), Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020, Ministry of Education and Science, Riga,

This section focuses on four system-level factors that will be instrumental in achieving Latvia’s goals and ambitions for education: 1) governing a highly decentralised education system; 2) ensuring adequate education financing; 3) realigning system capacity with demographic changes; and 4) using quality data and information for monitoring progress.

Governing a highly decentralised education system

Governance refers to the structures, institutions and dynamics through which education policy is defined and implemented. As in most OECD countries, education governance in Latvia involves a wide range of institutions, which creates a need for policy coherence and accountability. Responsibility for the education system is shared between MoES, its subordinate institutions and municipalities. In addition, branch ministries supervise and finance some vocational schools, gymnasia and tertiary education institutions.

In some municipalities, decentralisation has created opportunities for innovation and leadership, and enabled greater responsiveness to local needs. However, not all parts of the country have been able to benefit equally. Some municipalities, in particular the smaller ones, lack the capacity to effectively manage their local education systems. The evidence also suggests there is a need for rebalancing the high level of autonomy of municipalities with greater public accountability. The same can be said about the tertiary education system where institutional autonomy has to be weighed against quality assurance.

Ensuring an effective governance structure

At national level, the Saeima, the Cabinet of Ministers and MoES are the main decision-making bodies for education policy. MoES is the main body responsible for policy development and implementation in the fields of education, science, sports, state language and youth policy. MoES is responsible for the whole education sector, ranging from ECEC to tertiary education. It develops policies and programmes, supervises and monitors the implementation of education policies, and approves the standards for education at basic and upper secondary levels and for teacher training and qualifications. It is also the founder of some government educational institutions with others founded by local governments, private persons or other ministries. MoES allocates state funding and funding from EU structural funds to educational institutions directly or through its subordinate agencies. It also assures the quality of the system (MoES, 2015).

MoES is supported by a number of subordinate agencies, several of them created in 2009 as a result of reorganisation and mergers aimed at reducing the complexity of the system and improving overall efficiency and effectiveness. These mergers took place under pressure from severe budget cuts at the time of the economic crisis. The subordinate agencies are charged with the following tasks:

  • The State Education Quality Service (Izglītības kvalitātes valsts dienests, IKVD; established in 2009; around 60 employees) supervises education quality and is responsible for inspecting the education system from primary to upper secondary level and tertiary education level, including all public and private education institutions. It registers education institutions, licenses education programmes and carries out school (re)accreditation.

  • The National Centre for Education (Valsts izglītības satura centrs, VISC; established in 2009; around 100 employees) is involved in development and co-ordination activities. Amongst these are curricula and examinations for pre-school, basic and general secondary education and vocational education, as well as subject standards and sample teaching-learning programmes. VISC acts as a co-ordinator for the development of textbooks, the support system for learners with special needs and teachers’ continuing professional development, as well as organising extra-curricular activities.

  • The State Education Development Agency (Valsts izglītības attīstības aģentūra, VIAA; established in 2012; around 140 employees) has very diverse functions within the sectors of education and science, including international co-operation. It oversees all activities related to EU programmes such as the Lifelong Learning Programme.

  • The Latvian Language Agency (Latviešu valodas aģentūra; established in 2009; around 20 employees) aims to enhance the status and promote a sustainable development of the Latvian language. The agency implements the state language policy, formulated in the Guidelines of the State Language Policy for 2015-2020.

  • The Agency for International Programmes for Youth (Jaunatnes starptautisko programmu aģentūra; established in 1999; around 30 employees) promotes youth activities and mobility (e.g. within the EU). The agency implements non-formal learning and information programmes and projects targeted at youth and those working with youth, and supports the link between non-formal learning and lifelong education.

  • Two agencies, the Latvian Council of Science (Latvijas Zinātnes padome) and the Latvian Academy of Sciences (Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmija), fulfil advisory and representative functions with regard to research issues. The council also funds research and development (R&D) projects (MoES, 2015).

Other government actors also play a part in the education system. Branch ministries like the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Welfare supervise and finance some vocational schools, gymnasia and tertiary education institutions. The complex governance structure has more than once led to challenges in terms of co-ordination, implementation of policies and optimisation of provision.

For example in 2014/15, 33 of the 63 vocational education schools were under the responsibility of MoES, 14 under the Ministry of Culture, 1 under the Ministry of Welfare, 7 were run by municipalities and 8 were private institutions. This has led to overlap in the offer of programmes, limited labour market relevance and a lack of differentiation between the vocational schools. In a context of declining student numbers and tight public budgets this situation is not sustainable. Therefore as part of a larger reform of vocational education to improve the quality, relevance and attractiveness of vocational education, Latvia has set out to reorganise its vocational school network and has reduced the number of government vocational schools to 30 in 2015 through mergers and closures.

At the tertiary education level the reorganisation of tertiary education institutions is supported through European Structural Funds, through the “Development of Institutional Capacity of Scientific Institutions” activity. We will look into this issue in more detail in Chapter 5.

The need to balance decentralisation with adequate public accountability

From the early 1980s onwards, many countries have devolved decision-making authority to lower levels in the education system as a means of enhancing local responsiveness, encouraging creativity in the use of resources, promoting innovation and creating incentives for quality improvement (Waslander, Pater and van der Weide, 2010); this has also been the case in Latvia. Since its independence in 1990 the once highly centralised education system has been transformed into one where many decisions on how to actually implement the national regulations and educational policies are made at the municipal and institutional levels.

Between 1990 and 1994 efforts were directed towards the democratisation and decentralisation of the education system. This included “depoliticising” the curriculum, introducing a variety of alternatives within education and decentralising educational management. A network of private educational institutions was established and management functions were devolved from the centre to local governments and, ultimately to individual educational establishments (schools) and their heads (Zarina and Regaise, 2006).

Currently Latvia’s 119 municipalities are responsible for providing their children with the ability to acquire a quality education at the school closest to their homes. The municipal administration is shaped by Education Boards that are responsible for the provision of ECEC, basic education, upper secondary education (general and vocational) and non-formal adult education in their territory. Municipalities establish and finance these boards, and appoint the head in co-ordination with MoES. These boards could be the part of the governing body of a municipality, for example in the form of an education department. The board members consist of experts on different educational matters.

The boards’ functions include the implementation of local educational policy, the allocation of state grants to schools for the salaries of teaching and other staff, and the organisation of teachers’ professional development. Municipalities are also responsible for organising non-formal education and extracurricular activities for children and adults. Public schools in Latvia – within the legal framework – assume full authority over the use of funds as approved by their founding body (municipality) and the employment of teaching staff (OECD, 2014a; Eurydice, 2007). They are responsible for the implementation of education. School boards are set up to ensure stakeholder involvement and fulfil some administrative and advisory tasks.

Local autonomy may be considered both a strength and a weakness, depending on its implementation. Latvian municipalities and schools have the freedom to reallocate state funds (provided on the basis of the teacher remuneration system formula) in accordance with local circumstances, which in theory allows for flexibility and an effective use of resources. However, these redistributive powers currently cause great variation in teacher remuneration for the same tasks, stirring a widespread perception of unfairness.

Furthermore, municipalities support their own local schools and are unwilling to close small schools even if they are no longer viable. Closures must be made in the face of parents’ complaints, complicating network planning. In a sense the decentralisation reforms of the 1990s have given municipalities the tools to act against the government and block reforms (Grīviņš, 2012).

In addition, some municipalities, particularly the smaller ones, lack the capacity to adequately support their local school systems (OECD, 2014a) which raises further questions about the current governance and financing arrangements of the Latvian school system.

Public institutions in Latvia have a higher level of autonomy than institutions in many EU countries (Estermann, Nokkala and Steinel, 2011). Tertiary education institutions are able to determine their internal structure, develop and adopt their own internal codes of conduct and procedures, and establish academic programmes. They also determine the levels of pay for academic staff above governmentally-established minima and set the levels of tuition fees. Checks and balances to counter this high degree of autonomy are weak, however. For example, government funding is currently not linked to performance nor are tertiary education institutions required to publicly account for their balance sheets. Though some data are available there are concerns about accuracy (World Bank, 2014; Civitta, 2014).

Ensuring adequate funding and efficiency in education funding

Latvia’s public expenditure for education and per-student funding at all levels are below that of many OECD countries (Table 1.3). Still, despite the relatively low expenditure on education, Latvia has managed to improve its student performance since 2000 and is now performing close to the OECD average on PISA. Latvia aims to continue this positive trend, while aiming for further efficiency gains.

Table 1.3. Expenditure on education by level of education (2011)

Education expenditure as a percentage of GDP

Annual expenditure per student (converted USD, 2011)


OECD average


OECD average

ECEC (3-6 year-olds)



4 359

7 428









4 982

8 296

Lower secondary



5 019

9 377

Upper secondary



4 983

9 506




7 552

13 958




7 578





7 389





5 624

9 487

Source: OECD (2014b), Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Though there is a risk that the spending allocated to education in the long term will prove inadequate to achieve the desired outcomes of equity and quality, especially given the pressure to invest in other areas such as pensions, social assistance and health, the effectiveness of government spending in education is also clearly an issue. Latvia was ranked low in the institutional quality rankings for its wastefulness of government spending and several reports have pointed to the need for great efficiency in education spending (OECD, 2014a, 2015a; World Bank, 2014). Latvia’s ambitions for long-term efficiency gains and better student outcomes depend on the success of the reforms in school funding and tertiary education funding that it has embarked on.

Relatively low expenditure on education

Before the economic crisis, public expenditure on education had grown rapidly. Latvia’s schools were overstaffed. After the economic crisis hit Latvia, the contraction in 2009 created a fiscal imperative to reduce expenditure in the education sector (World Bank, 2010). Education expenditure fell from 5.7% of GDP in 2008 to 5.0% in 2010 although it remained relatively high (5.5%) during 2009 (Eurostat, 2014b; OECD, 2014b). While expenditure on education did not change too substantially as a share of GDP, in absolute terms it was severely affected during the economic crisis (Eurostat, 2015e). As a result, teacher salaries were cut in half and although they have recovered in recent years, salaries remain low compared to national and international standards (OECD, 2014a). In the year 2011, public expenditure for all levels of education had recovered to 5.4% of GDP but this was still below the pre-crisis level and considerably below the OECD average of 6.1%.

Private investment in education in Latvia is lower than in many OECD countries. In 2011 the proportions of private expenditure on educational institutions for all levels of education was 11.7%, compared to the OECD average of 16.1%. As briefly discussed, and covered in subsequent chapters in greater depth, Latvia has implemented a number of policies, like providing free lunches for students in Grades 1 to 3 or free transportation to school, that are intended to keep costs low for households.

A breakdown of investments reveals that public spending per student is one of the lowest among OECD countries (OECD, 2014b). Table 1.3 shows that for all levels of education, expenditure per student is considerably lower than the OECD average. Part of the explanation for this low per-student expenditure lies in the low salaries of teachers and academic staff compared to national and international standards (OECD, 2014a; World Bank, 2014).

The low salary and very flat pay scale for Latvian teachers and academic staff stand at odds with the government’s ambition to raise the motivation and professional capacity of teachers and academic personnel. MoES is therefore at the time of writing piloting a new remuneration system as part of a new school funding model. The aim is to make teachers’ pay competitive with other professions. The salaries of academic staff are also planned to rise from 1.5 times the average wage in 2012 to 2.5 times the average wage in 2017 and 2.8 times in 2020 (MoES, 2014). The review team agrees these are important measures for improving the status and attractiveness of the teaching profession but, as will be discussed in following chapters, also propose these should be part of a more strategic approach to reaching this objective.

For years Latvia has been able to benefit from EU support to supplement its education budget. Since its accession to the EU in 2004, Latvia has been one of the largest recipients of structural funds. In the current programming period (2014-20), the country will again receive EU funding from the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund and Cohesion Fund (around 2.8% of GDP per year) which it partly uses for education and science projects. Funds are mostly spent on infrastructure, classroom equipment, and research and science activities in tertiary education (MoES, 2015).

Despite EU support, additional measures will be needed to expand the funding base for education and to develop a sustainable and efficient education system. The inefficiency of the tax system and ineffectiveness of the Equalisation Fund are among the major challenges to improving public service delivery in Latvia (OECD, 2015a). The funding base for education could also be increased by strengthening public-private partnerships between vocational schools and tertiary education institutions and the private sector.

Latvia has also been encouraging greater investments by municipalities. While the national education budget consistently surpasses the resources municipalities spend (not counting earmarked state grants for teacher salaries), the gap has narrowed: municipal spending represented 73% of the state budget in 2010 but 90% in 2013. This is due to both a reduction in government budget and an increase in municipalities’ spending. This development is likely to have increased differences in spending per student between municipalities which in turn could impact on the quality of education. This shows the complexity of the funding situation. Latvia needs a broader look at improving public service delivery and ensuring municipalities are sufficiently resourced and autonomous. This will require increasing tax revenues, reducing the share of earmarked revenues and improving the equalisation system (OECD, 2015a).

Scope for increasing efficiency of education spending

Increased funding will not necessarily lead to improvements in outcomes; it is how funds are invested that can make a difference (OECD, 2010). It is important to note that Latvia, a country with a relatively low expenditure on education, has in fact managed to improve the performance of its students during the last decade and is now performing close to the OECD average on PISA. Latvia aims to continue this positive trend and further improve the quality and inclusiveness of its education system, while aiming for further efficiency. Several reports have noted that the latter is an issue deserving urgent policy attention (OECD, 2014a, 2015a; World Bank, 2014).

Well-designed funding models can help steer improvements in quality, equity and efficiency (Levačić, 2008; OECD, 2014a). In recent years, Latvia has taken important measures to improve the funding of school education and tertiary education. In 2009 Latvia revised its school funding model with the aim of increasing the efficiency of the system while increasing student achievement (Cabinet of Ministers, 2009). Based on the analysis of a report by the World Bank (2007) the government moved decisively to implement a number of fundamental reforms to contain budget expenditures and improve the efficiency of education provision. Central norms on class size were relaxed and school directors and local education authorities were allowed more flexibility over resource management. In addition to creating incentives for improved efficiency (and improved quality) the basis of financing primary and general secondary education was to be revised to finance students rather than teachers and schools (World Bank, 2010).

The per-student financing model, often referred to as “money follows the student” (Box 1.2) has been in operation since 2009/10. The intention was to bring about greater efficiency and at the same time enhance student achievement (Cabinet of Ministers, 2009). Implementation of the model was managed by the 119 municipalities established as a result of the territorial reform of 2009 (World Bank, 2010). Municipalities could decide how to distribute resources among their schools and supplement them with their own funds.

Box 1.2. Latvia’s per-student school funding system

In 2009/10 the Latvian government implemented school funding reform by introducing a new per-student school funding model for primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education. The economic crisis had provided the imperative to develop this new model. Before the economic crisis expenditure on education had grown rapidly and Latvian schools were found to be overstaffed (World Bank, 2010). The government’s aim was to bring about greater efficiency and enhance student performance.

The funding formula consists of two components: 1) a calculation defining the teacher workload that 2) feeds into the calculation of the total budget for salaries. The formula is based on detailed conversion rules to take into account the number of students at each grade, regulations for class size and location of the schools.

The Latvian school funding formula

Student numbers

Student coefficients

Programme coefficient

Density coefficient

Studentteacher ratio

Number of students in school X

- 0.75 (grades 1-4)

-1.00 (grades 1-4 schools with smaller than 100 students)

-1.00 (grades 4-9)

-1.25 (grades 10-12)

-1.2 (pedagogic and social correction education)

-1.8 (special programmes in special schools)

-0.81 (long-term patients)

-1.1 (gymnasia)

-0.8 (evening and distance education)

-1.84 (number of students with education needs integrated in common schools)

-1.2 (specialised programmes)

-1.3 (specialised programmes - music)

X 1.3 = the number of students by applying the students’ coefficients

X ratio in small villages: 8.12 or X ratio in republican cities: 10.35

= number of workloads

Number of workloads

X minimum salary

X 1.2359 (social security costs)

X 1.15 (administrative tasks)

X 1.40 (additional duties)

= total budget for teacher salaries

The basic calculation of workload is widely known as “money follows the student”. The number of students in a school forms the starting point for the calculation of the number of teacher workloads. The formula accounts for the education level with a student coefficient that differs according to whether the student is in Grades 1 to 4, Grades 5 to 9 or Grades 10 to 12.

The formula is not entirely driven by numbers of students. It has additional indices intended to promote equity in the face of differences in perceived need. It accounts for the differences in cost of programmes and favours small schools with fewer than 100 students which have a higher per-student coefficient. There is an ideal student-teacher ratio, which is different for schools in small municipalities and those in the nine republican cities. Taking into account all these factors, the calculation produces the number of “workloads” to which a school is entitled. A full-time workload implies 21 hours of teaching.

The second step involves converting the number of workloads into a budgetary amount. The minimum teacher salary per workload (EUR 420 in 2014) is determined by the government through annual cabinet regulations. This amount is multiplied by a number of coefficients. A coefficient of 1.2359 covers social security costs, and a further factor of 1.15 is applied for administration. This is intended to promote more efficient planning by including non-teaching staff salaries as a percentage of the teacher salary grant. Every school can use up to 15% of the total amount for hiring non-teaching staff such as heads, deputy heads and special educational needs teachers who perform administrative tasks.

A factor of 1.4 is added to the budget calculation to account for numerous “additional duties” such as preparing lessons, correcting homework, grading tests and participating in meetings. In other OECD countries many of these additional duties are considered to be part of a teacher’s core duties. School leaders can decide how to provide for additional duties. For example, one teacher might receive several hours of extra work per week for additional duties while another might be allocated none. Thus teachers doing the same work in different municipalities might receive different salaries.

Source: OECD (2014a), Teacher Remuneration in Latvia: An OECD Perspective, OECD Publishing, Paris,

An OECD report on the Latvian teacher remuneration system noted that the funding model is a relatively transparent budgeting tool; the system takes into account the costs of educating a student and the attendant differences between schools. It also provides incentives to increase class sizes (OECD, 2014a). Several years on, however, it is also clear that Latvia is struggling to make further efficiency gains and several weaknesses of the model have become apparent. These include insufficient sensitivity to children with special education needs and a failure to take account of teachers’ experience. Moreover, the financial autonomy provided to municipalities has enabled some to reallocate funds to small schools that are no longer viable. Research evidence has also shown there are considerable spending differences between municipalities. Grīviņš (2012) for example reported that 13 municipalities spent more than 40% than the national average per student, whilst 21 municipalities spent between 20% and 60% less.

MoES is currently piloting a revised model for school funding and teacher remuneration responding to several of these issues. For example funds will be distributed to schools directly, and there are stronger incentives to increase class sizes. In addition, as mentioned, there is the intention to make teachers’ pay competitive with other professions. Raising teacher salaries to nationally comparable standards without raising class sizes and student-teacher ratios considerably seems unlikely considering the socio-economic and political context. Maintaining a relatively large teaching workforce for a small and shrinking student population is not sustainable or desirable from a quality perspective.

If endorsed, the new model is expected to bring about greater efficiencies while improving quality and equity. MoES should carefully monitor the implementation of the new model, make adjustments where needed (OECD, 2014a) and ensure that the freed-up resources are invested in the quality of teaching.

For tertiary education, efficiency gains in the long run will depend on the success of a planned new funding model to reward quality, strengthen links with labour market needs and research institutions, and avoid fragmentation of budget resources (OECD, 2015a). This new tertiary education funding model will be discussed in greater depth in Chapter 5 but it is expected to lead to efficiency gains as well as a better match of skills to labour market requirements. This reform may prove difficult to implement however as reform attempts undertaken between 2011 and 2013 have met substantial resistance from educational institutions themselves.

Realigning system capacity with demographic changes

Demographic changes have a significant influence on all policy areas including education. Latvia’s student population has been declining due to long-term low fertility rates and emigration. The Latvian government has made some effort to optimise the school network although some municipalities have proved unwilling to close small schools. Further policy measures may be needed to promote different ways to rationalise the school network and deal with the challenges of overstaffed schools. The new school funding model discussed above, and the impending retirement of large numbers of teachers may facilitate this process.

Consolidating the network of schools and tertiary education institutions

At the beginning of 2014 there were about 2 million people in Latvia, nearly 20% fewer than in 2000. According to the demographic forecasts, the Latvian population will continue to decrease in the coming years due to long-term low fertility rates and emigration. As noted in the Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020, Latvia expects a severe “demographic shock” in the coming years (MoES, 2014). It is expected that between 2012 and 2020 the number of students in secondary general education will fall by 11 600. At the tertiary level this decline is expected to be even larger; in 2020 80 000 students are expected to be enrolled in tertiary education which is about 15% fewer than in 2012.

Only the basic education level is expected to see an increase in the number of students in the coming years but as Figures 1.7 and 1.8 show, even this increase is likely to be temporary (Hazans, 2013; Krišjāne and Lāce, 2012; Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, 2013).

These demographic changes call for Latvia’s educational capacity to be reviewed, including the numbers of schools and higher education institutions and the people working in them. According to MoES data, for example, in 2013, 30% of Grade 12 classes did not exceed 20 students and 10% had 10 students or fewer. Internationally, in 2012, Latvia had the smallest average class sizes – 16 students in primary and 15 in lower secondary – among OECD and partner countries (the OECD averages are 21 and 24 respectively) (OECD, 2014b).

Figure 1.7. Number of residents, by age (start of 2014)

Source: Ministry of Economics (2014a), Informatīvais Ziņojums par Darba Tirgus Vidēja un Ilgtermiņa Prognozēm [Informative Note on Mid-term and Long-term Forecast of Labour Market], Ministry of Economics, Riga,

In response to this situation, MoES has formulated a policy that primarily aims to maintain access to ECEC and primary education as close as possible to the place of residence, while concentrating upper secondary education at the regional level. Lower secondary schools (Grades 7 to 9) are expected to meet the specific needs of the local and regional network of schools. To ensure the effective use of resources, independent lower secondary schools may have to be merged regionally (with upper secondary schools). Alternatively, they may have to become basic education schools (providing primary and lower secondary programmes). The implementation of this policy may be difficult as in practice municipalities support their own local schools and are unwilling to close small secondary schools, as mentioned above. Further policy measures may therefore be needed to promote a variety of means of rationalising the school network, covered in Chapter 3.

Figure 1.8. Estimated changes in population between 2012 and 2020, by age group

Source: MoES (2014), Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020, Ministry of Education and Science, Riga,

The tertiary education sector will also see a continued decline in student numbers, a trend that started ten years ago. This will put further pressure on the relatively large network of tertiary education institutions in Latvia. Further policy measures may be needed here, as discussed in Chapter 5.

Another challenge Latvia will have to face in the coming years is that many of Latvia’s schools are overstaffed. Although the numbers of teachers has fallen during the last decade, it has happened at a much slower rate than the student population. For example between 2003/04 and 2013/14 the number of students in basic education (Grades 1 to 9) fell by about 35% while the number of teachers (full-time equivalents) fell by a mere 12%. This development has resulted in very low student-teacher ratios. In 2012 the average lower secondary student-teacher ratio was 7.9, compared with an OECD average of 13.5 (OECD, 2014b).

As noted in a recent OECD report (2014a) these very low ratios are neither sustainable nor desirable from a quality perspective. Continuing demographic decline, coupled with a tight public budget for education, has fuelled calls for efficiency gains and, as discussed above, the new school funding model under pilot should promote larger class sizes. The seemingly difficult trade-off between the quantity and quality of teachers may be less of an issue, however, considering many teachers are to retire in the near future.

At the tertiary level the number of part-time staff grew rapidly, outnumbering full-time staff since 2007. This was a deliberate choice by institutions facing budget constraints fuelled by the economic crisis. The large number of part-time staff may change as many academic staff are nearing retirement age and institutions may struggle to draw in young academic talent to replace them. MoES is carefully monitoring this development.

Using data and research for evidence based policy making

The effective monitoring and evaluation of education systems is central to informing policy plans for improvement while at the same time providing public accountability. High-quality and timely quantitative and qualitative data, and the capacity to use such data, are essential for accountability, efficiency, quality assurance and other aspects of good governance that ensure the desired results are achieved (OECD, 2013b). To support these efforts many countries have established education management information systems. These systems aim to inform the various actors and partners about the state of the sector, its internal and external efficiency, its pedagogical and institutional operation, and its performance, shortcomings and needs (Carrizo, Sauvageot and Bella, 2003; OECD, 2013b).

This review and earlier reports (e.g. European Commission, 2015; MoES, 2014) identified Latvia’s education information system as a challenge to effective evidence-based policy making. Latvia has recognised these and other limitations of the current system and intends to develop a comprehensive quality monitoring system, but not until 2023. Apart from considering implementing this system earlier, Latvia should not overlook the need to improve the reliability of data and contextual information to support further analysis, as well as build the capacity of MoES staff to use data and research.

Improving the education information system

In 2009 Latvia established the State Education Information System (SEIS), a database holding information about educational institutions, licensed and accredited educational programmes, students, teachers, education documents, and national statistics. The Educational Institution Register, Teacher Register, Educational Programmes Register, State Unified Database of Children of Mandatory Education Age and the Academic Staff Register are all components of the SEIS. The system aims to provide users2 with comprehensive information about students, including children in ECEC, teaching staff and the performance rating of teachers.

This review has identified a number of weaknesses of the SEIS which limit its usefulness for evidence-based policy making in Latvia, however. It found reason to be concerned about the reliability of the data collected and stored in the SEIS. On more than one occasion data drawn from the system turned out to be outdated, conflicting with other data sources or simply faulty. This suggests there is much scope to improve the data quality assurance processes.

Further, the administrative datasets (e.g. registers of schools, teachers, students) and national assessments contain limited contextual information, such as the socio-economic background of students. This is an obstacle to the accurate interpretation of data and research, and thus to the design of more effective and equitable policies.

In addition, national student assessments are often intended to serve several purposes. As with countries like Estonia and Poland, national assessments in Latvia are used both to award certificates and monitor the education system (EACEA, 2009; MoES, 2014). In Latvia, however, information systems and student reports do not track students’ performance or pathways, which limit their usefulness for monitoring students’ progress throughout their education. Information about student performance and development over time can enable potential learning difficulties to be identified and addressed early on and can be a powerful means of reducing numbers dropping out.

These and other challenges identified in other reports (European Commission, 2015; MoES, 2014) have made MoES decide to strengthen the SEIS. The Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020 call for the need to develop a comprehensive quality monitoring system: “an all-level education quality and implementation monitoring system which should enhance the capacity for education policy analysis in public administration”. The guidelines also state that such a monitoring system should enable the systemic analysis of problematic issues, for example the lower achievements of boys. However, MoES plans only to put the system in place by 2023. It should consider putting this system in place as soon as possible in order to enhance its capacity for evidence-based policy making and as such help Latvia achieve its education ambitions for the year 2020 (see Box 1.1).

Ensuring adequate capacity for using data and research

When developing this improved education information system, Latvia should not overlook the capacities of the people who are to use and contribute to it. Research evidence shows that the development of an effective education management information system involves considerable investment in developing competences and skills for evaluation and assessment at all levels of the system. All too often data and information are primarily seen as a tool for accountability with less attention being paid to how to actually use them in daily practice (Fazekas and Burns, 2012; OECD, 2013b; Cassidy, 2006).

Apart from a possible underdeveloped “culture” within MoES of using data and research evidence for policy-making purposes, the root problem seems to be capacity constraints. The evidence suggests there is considerable scope for strengthening the capacity of MoES for data collection and analysis.

Furthermore, this review points to a number of issues that MoES should consider investigating through research to help inform and strengthen its reform agenda. Vocational education and tertiary education have benefited greatly in recent years from a series of important research reports that have acted as a catalyst for education reforms. Apart from possibly the OECD review of teacher remuneration (2014b), other parts of the education system have had few such prominent studies.

In addition, MoES could consider establishing an independent research institution to expand its research and evaluation capacity, possibly by investing in a national body with specialist expertise in the area or alternatively through Latvia’s universities. Latvia could look to the example of Austria, which established the Austrian Institute for Education Research, Innovation and Development in Schooling in 2008 as an independent legal entity with clear roles and responsibilities. This represented a significant increase in the volume and quality of education research activities in Austria. Its mission statement is as follows: “A country’s future prospects are inextricably linked to the quality of the education system. To further improve the Austrian education system, it is necessary to take stock of the current situation, to implement effective reforms and then to evaluate these. The basis for this is the development of evidence-based education policy and systematic school development” (OECD, 2013c).

Annex 1.A1. Key indicators


Key indicators


OECD average or total



Background information



GDP per capita, 2011, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs (OECD, 2014a)

19 984


17 125

88 668


GDP growth 2013 (OECD, 2015d)







Population density, inhab/km2, 2011 (Eurostat, 2015h; OECD, 2013)






Population aged less than 15 as a percentage of total population, 2012 (Eurostat, 2015i; OECD, 2015e)





Education inputs


Starting age of compulsory education (OECD, 2014a)






Ending age of compulsory education (OECD, 2014a)






Enrolment rates of 3-4 year-olds in early childhood education and primary education as a percentage of the population of the same age group, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)






First age of selection in the education system (OECD, 2013a)






% of students reporting that they have repeated at least a grade in primary, lower secondary or upper secondary schools (OECD, 2013a)






Percentage of lower secondary education principals who report that they use student performance and student evaluation results (including national/international assessments) to develop the school’s educational goals and programmes (OECD, 2014d)






% of students whose school principals reported that assessments are used for the following purposes (OECD, 2013a)

To make decisions about students’ retention or promotion





To monitor the school’s progress from year to year





To make judgements about teachers’ effectiveness





To identify aspects of instruction or the curriculum that could be improved






Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP, 2011 (OECD, 2014a)






Annual expenditure per student by educational institutions, for all services, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, 2011 (OECD, 2014a)

Pre-primary education

4 359

7 428

2 412

25 074

Primary education

4 982

8 296

2 218

23 871

Secondary education

4 998

9 280

2 736

16 182

Tertiary education

7 552

13 958

7 868

26 021


Relative proportions of public and private expenditure on educational institutions, 2011 (OECD, 2014a)

Public sources





All private sources





Education outcomes


Mean performance in mathematics (OECD, 2014c)






Annualised change in mathematics performance across PISA assessments (OECD, 2014c)






Annualised change in reading performance across PISA assessments (OECD, 2014c)






Annualised change in science performance across PISA assessments (OECD, 2014c)






Students performing below Level 2 in mathematics (%), (OECD, 2014c)






Score difference in mathematics performance in PISA between students in city schools and rural schools AFTER adjusting for socio-economic status (city – rural) (OECD, 2013c)






Score differences between boys and girls in mathematics (boys - girls) (OECD, 2013c)






Upper secondary graduation rates in %, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)






First-time graduation rates by programme of orientation, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)

Graduation rate tertiary-type A (general programme)





Graduation rate tertiary-type B (technical programme)






% of 15-29 year-olds not in education, employment or training, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)






% of 25-64 year-olds whose highest level of attainment is lower secondary education or below, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)






% of 25-34 year-olds whose highest level of attainment is at least upper secondary education, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)






% of 25-34 year-olds whose highest level of attainment is tertiary education, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)






Unemployment rates of 25-64 year-olds by educational attainment, 2012 (OECD, 2014a)

Below upper secondary





Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary





Tertiary education





Sources: Eurostat (2015h), “Population density”, Eurostat database, Eurostat, (accessed 15 July 2015); Eurostat (2015i) “Population by age group”, Eurostat database, Eurostat, (accessed 15 July 2015); OECD (2015d), “Economic outlook No. 98 – November 2015”, OECD Economic Outlook (database), OECD, (accessed 9 November 2015); OECD (2015e), “Labour Force Statistics: Summary tables”, OECD Employment and Labour Market Statistics (database), (accessed 15 July 2015); OECD (2014a), Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,; OECD (2014c), PISA 2012 Results (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014): What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,; OECD (2014d), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris,; OECD (2013a), PISA 2012 Results (Volume IV): What Makes Schools Successful? Resources, Policies and Practices, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,; OECD (2013c), PISA 2012 Results (Volume II): Excellence through Equity: Giving Every Student the Chance to Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,


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← 1. Early school leavers are people aged 18-24 who have only lower secondary education or less and are no longer in education or training (European Council, 2003).

← 2. Access to the State Education Information System is given to employees of the State Education Quality Service, municipalities, education institutions (including ECEC institutions), professional education institutions, interest-related education institutions or professional orientation education institutions (irrespective of its legal status) if access is needed for work-related duties.