The basis for overall policy in VET is the strong idea that vocational education must be brought back into the mainstream of Latvian society. This only can be achieved if VET is recognised by Latvian society as being a high quality education and relevant to the needs of the labour market and to students.
In this respect overall policy is focused on the enhancement of the quality and relevance of VET in particular at SEDOC/CEDEFOP levels 2 to 4. The policy is, therefore, aimed at the development of a self-governing VET system based on a consistent legal framework. The funding mechanisms to be developed will need to support this self governance of VET.
The enhancement of the quality and relevance of VET requires the following measures:
Overall Latvian VET policy encompasses all these aspects.
From about 1992 the reform of VET has become a major issue of Latvian education policy. It is obvious that in the overall national policy agenda there are more crucial matters to be tackled, such as privatisation, infrastructure, healthcare, and environmental protection. At the beginning of the nineties education reform was not the top priority as far as budget allocation was concerned, however already in 1991 a new Law on Education was adopted in which the main -and new principles, goals and features of the Latvian Education System have been stated. In 1995 the Latvian Concept of Education was adopted by the Cabinet of Ministries as a strategic basis for education development. In this Concept the development of continuing education and the strengthening of the education support structure are stressed. Furthermore it is suggested to set up for VET a National System of Educational Standards, to improve the horizontal and vertical transition possibilities for students, to reform the existing university structure, to set up for VET sustainable infrastructures for curriculum development, to review VET management and financing mechanisms as well as the further integration of initial, adult and retraining provisions and to strengthen regional VET infrastructure.
A new Law on Education is under preparation, which should eventually replace the 1991 Law.
A new Law on Vocational Education is currently under discussion in Parliament. This new law on VET will lay the basis for the reform of VET mentioned above.
All these changes will lead to a reform in the VET system. Reform is necessary in order to enable Latvia to deal with the needs of a democratic and market oriented society undergoing rapid and irreversible economic restructuring. This requires far-reaching VET reform and, therefore, the Cabinet of Ministries and the Ministry of Education and Science are committed to a reform programme under which significant changes are developed and which have partially already been implemented. At present reform in particular is taking place in secondary VET (level 2 and 3) in some ten different profiles. Moreover, business education at level 3 has been developed. As far as level 4 is concerned the development of so-called college education will be started in 1999 in some four profiles. All these reforms encompass the development of curricula (and teaching materials), educational standards and an appropriate accreditation system. Besides this, funding mechanisms will also be changed. Under the Country Operative Programme for 1997 several projects, which touch these matters, will be started.
VET reform has been initiated under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education and Science. To streamline the management of reform projects (both nationally or internationally funded) the Ministry has established the Agency for Vocational Education Development Programmes.
Most of the reform programmes are EU Phare funded programmes. Some of the reform programmes are based on bilateral co-operation between Latvia and EU-countries.
Since the reform of VET touches upon all aspects of the system, it is obvious that its implementation requires a huge effort from all interested parties. To safeguard the coherency of the intended reform a clear concept (at national level) on the one hand and a strong commitment (of the parties involved) on the other is a ‘condition sine qua non’. The main impediment to the implementation up till now is that a clear and workable concept has not yet been adopted and a broad commitment has not yet been achieved. However, taking into account what has been achieved, it is expected that by the end of 1998 these conditions will be fulfilled.
Though the present situation is not yet as it should be, the many initiatives and projects that have been undertaken have led to irreversible improvements. Logically the right approach for development may well be: concept, strategy, policy and implementation, although, realistically experimentation may help make clearer the direction of strategy and policy development.
The future priorities of the Latvian government with regard to the reform of the VET system are the following:
This last (overall) priority is at the same time a great obstacle in the implementation of VET reform. It turns out to be difficult to commit labour market bodies not only to an involvement in the VET reform but in particular to a structural and long lasting involvement in VET.
The way the labour market is organised is not yet sufficient for such an involvement, because of a lack of employer’s interest in the raising of the education level of their staff. And of course labour market organisations do have a lot of other issues to tackle.
Last but not least: innovation of VET is a long lasting (and with all its changes: a threatening) process of implementing and embedding new ideas in people’s (e.g.: teachers and ministry-officials) attitudes and professional styles. Obviously innovation can be initiated and be encouraged at national level (Ministry of Education and Science), but the decisive actions need to be undertaken at institutional level. People working at this level (teachers, school directors and school boards) need to adopt the ideas but they also should have the opportunity to prepare themselves for these changes. Up to now they have not had this opportunity, which has hampered the implementation of the intended innovations.