The mission of vocational education and training is to provide a life-long possibility to acquire professional skills and knowledge. This also ensures a correspondence between the professional capability of the population and the requirements of the labour market together with individual abilities and interests.
Taking into account recent changes in the national economy of Latvia, attention has been paid to updating VET programmes. The development of new VET programmes is carried out by the Professional Education Centre at the Ministry of Education and Science and similar institutions at other Ministries.
The courses are evaluated at a pass/fail test or examination, and for the whole programme at a qualification examination, .state examination and at the presentation of diploma work. The level of education and the awarded qualifications of a VET school leaver are certified by State diploma. Diploma projects are presented before independent commissions comprising educationalists, specialists and employers. In the past two years a unified methodology is being used in each branch to assess the quality of vocational education. Unfortunately the involvement of employers in this process is not regulated by any rules and therefore employers are mainly involved by way of informal relations and personal acquaintances.
In order to assure common requirements in qualifications, for some professions e.g. welders, electricians, tailors, examination centres exist at which candidates from all the schools are examined. Six such centres exist at the moment.
The teachers at VET schools mainly have either higher professional education or secondary "specialised" education in the appropriate field. Most VET teachers
- lack pedagogical training,
- are close to retirement age.
13% all the VET teachers have already reached retirement age and 8% of VET teachers will reach retirement age within the next 5 years.
Activities in order to create special study programmes for the training of VET teachers/trainers which would provide teachers with knowledge, skills and attitudes suitable for VET specific in Latvia, have begun in 1996 with the assistance of a Danish institute of VET teachers (DELATE project). It was planned to begin VET teacher training at 5 higher education institutions of Latvia in autumn 1998. Due to insufficient funds the project was actually begun at only two higher education institutions, involving 70 VET teachers who were lacking pedagogical training.
Funding of initial VET in Latvia is carried out according to norms based upon curriculum, the number of students and the number of student groups. Work is being carried out in order to improve the VET financing system. Efforts are also being made to introduce legislation which would, on the one hand, allow tax exemptions for employers investing in VET thereby stimulating the involvement of employers in VET financing, and on the other hand, stimulating VET schools to use the funds rationally. It is planned to calculate VET financing based upon figures for the single student.
The numbers following different professional further training programmes is growing every year. Statistical data provides evidence, that the investment of employers in adult education is also growing, funding has more than doubled since 1995. The funding allocated by the state for employment retraining and the number of retrained unemployed persons has also grown.
In the last three years a growth in the total number of students in VET schools has been observed. A further growth for 2-3% can be expected up to 1999. Later on a decline in the number of VET students is expected due to the decrease in overall graduate numbers from 9-year basic schooling.
Vocational education traditionally does not have a high prestige in society, therefore quite often VET schools are chosen by those receiving low grades at basic school. A great part (56% in 1997) of basic school leavers prefer general secondary education. At the same time, statistical data shows that a part of general secondary school leavers do not continue their education (34% in 1997) and, at the same time, the greatest share of unemployment is among people having general secondary education without any professional qualification.
The rate of dropouts (for various reasons) from VET schools is rather high (12.5% in 1977). Most of all dropouts are observed among first-year VET students.
This can be a result of insufficient professional guidance and counselling, insufficient motivation of young people and their interest in education, and, possibly, it may indicate that the VET programmes are not attractive.
Every year some pupils do not continue their studies at 8th or 9th grade and, consequently, they do not complete their basic education. Groups for such pupils at three VET schools have been created, thereby offering them a possibility to acquire both a profession and basic education. However, special curricula and specially trained teachers are required to ensure a smooth operation of such groups.
Teaching at VET schools is provided in the state language of Latvian or in Russian. Currently 68% of students learn in Latvian and 32% in Russian. In order to ensure a better integration of Russian-speaking students into society and to improve their situation in the labour market, some subjects are taught in Latvian, new teaching aids are being developed and new terminology dictionaries are being created. Russian-speaking VET teachers are being taught in order to reach a higher level of Latvian language ability. According to a Government Declaration, it is foreseen to switch to the provision of VET programmes in the State language in the future. Such a change is currently hindered by several factors:
More attention should be paid and additional investments are necessary for the re-structuring of vocational education and training in line with the changes in employment policy within a market economy. The creation of an educational system is needed, which stimulates high-quality vocational education and training of the labour force, and increases its productivity and competitiveness. This means:
Firstly, a conceptual basis for reform policy and the consequent realisation of reforms should be created at state level. Successful realisation of reforms requires a reinforcement of the legal basis of vocational education and training. At the same time, the Saeima (Parliament) still has to adopt the law on VET, whilst changes are now needed in existing legislation, particularly, the Law on higher educational establishments, it is necessary to create an adequate system for accreditation and licensing of VET programmes and institutions, it is necessary to locate higher vocational education within the Latvian system of education.
Secondly, an active and autonomous system of co-operation between VET and the labour market has to be created. The main instrument of such a system should be a successful tripartite Co-operation model between the educationalists, branch committees of the labour market and the representatives of employees.
Thirdly, an efficient and flexible education management system needs to be created. It should have a leading role in the successful implementation of national VET and labour force training tasks.
The levels of employment in some branches has substantially changed since the re-establishment of independence in 1991 and it will continue to change in the future. For this reason, employment tendencies have to be taken into account when re-structuring and reorganising the VET system.
Relevant labour market studies are still lacking as no institution in Latvia carries out systematic labour market research. Methodological studies, forecasting development in different branches, forecasting development at regional and municipal levels, analysis by social partners are necessary in order to create a system of labour market studies, which would allow the identification the labour market tendencies. The Latvian National Observatory attempts to compile the results of the currently scattered elements of labour market research carried out by social partners, statistical services and employment services, but the resources of National Observatory are far too limited to permit it to carry out primary labour market data gathering.
The retraining/upgrading ability of the labour force in order to adapt to new situations in the labour market becomes especially significant under the conditions of a rapidly changing economic situation. Retraining possibilities are hindered by:
The main obstacles in changing the present situation are the limited technological and methodological possibilities of VET schools, inadequate qualifications of VET teachers and incomplete legislation. The education programmes offered should provide a wide vocational education background thereby preparing employees for families of related occupations rather than concentrating on very narrow specialisations. Possessing a wide overall vocational training background an individual can attain the specific knowledge necessary for a particular occupation in a shorter period of time.
The current tendency of the separate development of initial training, adult training and unemployment training can be seen as a problem. If the unemployment continues to grow as well as the role of life long learning, retraining and the development of new skills during working life will become more and more important. Under a situation where a developed education policy and strategy is lacking and a wider understanding in society about the inevitable link between the quality of education, quality of labour force and the stability of the national economy is also lacking, a non-rational usage of funds allocated for different types of training and unnecessary competition between the education providers as well as uncoordinated actions of different education providers is seen to occur. It is needed to co-ordinate offers of initial vocational training and of all kinds of continuing VET.
The state strategic programme for the development of education foresees the realisation of the following tasks in order to develop vocational education and training:
As a result of all the foreseen measures the following results will be achieved:
At present, there is a draft VET Law under discussion in Parliament, which should eventually replace the 1991 Law. A special working group has been established, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Education and Science, involving representatives of different ministries presently involved in vocational education, and social partners.
The present draft of the VET law describes some of the structural issues which are important for VET. Those are:
To resolve the classification system problem, the Council of Ministers has accepted, in late 1996, the UNESCO classification of education levels (ISCED) as the basis for the classification of educational programmes in Latvia and to use this classification for statistical purposes.
Due to the major reform measures, implemented with the support of EU Phare VET Reform programmes (see Phare programmes table), many innovations have been made and are under preparation regarding VET policy and strategy. To summarise them and to give a perspective of a modern European type of VET system, the development of a VET Policy Paper has been started under Phare VET Reform programme 94í. It is planned to be finalised in October 1998.
The concept will be developed with reference to: reform needs for VET in Latvia, proposed policy measures for development of a future-oriented VET system and the systemic, structural and modernisation aspects of future reform activities.
The MOES is also reviewing the management and financing mechanisms of vocational education, with the technical support of the EU Phare programme " VET 2000". This is one of the issues not addressed by the draft VET law and therefore will need to be reflected in future legislation. The same relates to:
As these matters are conceptually agreed and defined, the necessary legislative norms and instruments will need to be created.
Technical assistance is required in order to find applicable solutions and measures for promoting the investment and institution building in accordance with the prepared concepts.
The overall responsibility for the Latvian initial vocational education system is presently undergoing review with the idea emerging of concentrating the basic responsibilities in the MOES. Apart from the budgetary implications, this development will increase the need for improved management capacities for vocational education within the MOES.
The concentration of administrative and management responsibilities at the national level will be accompanied by a reorganisation of the vocational school network. The intention is to appoint a number of vocational schools to become Regional Education Centres. With the support from government or other donors, these Centres need to be well organised, prepared and equipped for the provision of initial and continuing VET, improving their quality and capacity for adult and unemployed training. The Centres are also to operate as Regional Examination Centres with a strong quality control function. The underlying vision is to establish an effective and financially sustainable network of practical training facilities in the absence of opportunities from enterprises. Experiments on a pilot scale have been started with EU Phare support already, but their successful development will depend on the continued availability of external assistance and sources.
The need has furthermore been recognised for developing professional support infrastructures at national level for continuous curriculum development, teacher in-service training, and school innovation. The further development of a professional and efficient support structure would benefit from external support and from the integration into existing European networks.
All curriculum related modernisation as well as the intended structural changes are placed within a perspective of Latviaís integration into the European Union. There is a strong wish and a project management organisation/agency exists to ensure the best use of EU member statesí and CEEC partners statesí experiences in developing a modern vocational education system. This should guarantee the development of occupational and educational standards comparable to European levels.
Steps taken for entering the programme
A National Co-ordination Unit (NCU) has been established for the administration of the Leonardo da Vinci Programme in Latvia within the structure of a state non-profit organisation: the Agency for Vocational Education Development Programmes (12.04.97). The NCU has four full time staff (1 programme co-ordinator and 3 programme specialists) and one part-time (accountant).
Nine information seminars (covering 5 sectors and including 5 regional seminars) have been organised by the NCU. These seminars were attended by representatives of 210 Latvian institutions and organisations, including 142 education and training organisations of various levels, types and organisational forms.
Programme documentation published by the European Commission including the Vade mecum, the Promoterís Guide and the Application forms have been translated into Latvian and published by the NCU.
With the additional financial support of the European Training Foundation, 37 Latvian institutions have been awarded grants for travel and accommodations in order to be able to attend contact developing events and partnership preparation meetings in countries of the EU and EEA. 15 of these institutions received this support during the period of the general Call for Proposals. An additional call for project proposal ideas has been made to specially support decentralised mobility actions.
1998 Call for Proposals
The 1998 Call for Proposals was translated into Latvian and published in a special supplement to the Latvian weekly newspaper "Education and Culture". As Latvia was not fully participating in the programme at the time of the Call, the text was published for the information of the public, without having official status.
During the Call for Proposals (09.12.97-31.03.98) representatives of 56 Latvian institutions received consultations on project proposals and assistance in finding project partners in the EUR18 countries. At the deadline, 3 institutions submitted pilot projects under strand I and 2 under strand II. Partners in these projects were 18 institutions from 8 EU countries, Iceland and Lithuania. At this time full information regarding Latvian institutions who are partners in EUR 18 projects is not available.
Bilateral discussions between the European Commission and Latvia on 8 July resulted in common agreement about the pre-selection of 3 projects promoted by Latvian institutions.
A decentralised call for mobility projects is planned for late October, early November, as soon as Latvia officially becomes a full participant in the Leonardo da Vinci programme
The quality of VET
The development of VET standards based on occupational standards and the setting up of a VET accreditation system requires a well regulated involvement of social partners. By the end of 1998 the design of a Qualification System will be available in which methodology, procedures and partners in the "Standard"-process are described and identified. The implementation of this system is foreseen through a EU Phare project . The main challenge will be how and to what extent the involvement of the labour market can be reached.
Continuing Education. At present a wide supply in fields of professional skills is observable. Continuing education today has become an indispensable part of professional life due to the rapid changes in required skills. The setting up of continuing education which leads to recognised certificates is still in the very beginning of its development. The main challenge here is the match between demand and supply and how to safeguard quality. A methodology for the identification of training needs should be developed.
Furthermore there is a great lack of appropriate teaching materials.
Regionalisation. It is necessary to co-ordinate offers of initial vocational training and of all kinds of continuing VET at regional level.
As a part of national VET policy two experiments will be started in order to develop a model of regional co-operation within VET. (Daugavpils, Rezekne) Afterwards other regions will be involved to strengthen their VET infrastructure.
Vocational guidance. A structured process of vocational guidance has not been developed yet. Professional counselling is not accessible for all students. The limited capacity of the Professional Career Counselling Centre does not allow the counselling of all students. Professional guidance could be developed as a structured process including necessary information, testing of professional adequacy and demand of labour market.
Staff development. The training of staff is organised by the Ministry of Education and Science, Department of Vocational Education Development and Professional Education Centre. The training of school directors is foreseen also through an EU Phare project. This training will cover matters such as: financial management, change management, human resources management, marketing of education, relation networking, quality management. This training must be organised on a nation-wide scale. The EU Phare funded project is just the beginning.
After this the Ministry must allocate a substantial budget for this training.
Data collection. For the development of strategy (at both levels: national and institutional) labour market data is indispensable. Up to now there are no appropriate methods and mechanisms for the collection of this data which in particular could be used to forecast trends in the labour market. As no specific VET and labour market research centre exists in Latvia the role of National Observatory becomes more and more important. The capacity of the National Observatory is in that respect under-resourced.
Partnership with social partners. Social partnership must be and will be structured at the national level (strategy and policy) at qualification level (branch-committees), at institutional level (representation in schoolboards) and at education level (provision of practical training positions). All this is explicitly part of Latvian VET policy. Still it remains difficult for both the VET system and the labour market to articulate in a concrete way what they expect exactly from each other. For individual enterprises and companies it is sometimes easier to express their needs. But even then case they are mostly too specific or too ad hoc for the reform of VET as an education system.
Publicity. Up to now Publicity has been a weak point in VET policy. It also is conceivable that the Vocational Education Development Programme Agency will play a role in VET-related publicity. In the process of restructuring the Centre for Professional Education this matter will also be clarified. The role of the National Observatory is increasing in this field due to their large number of publications and case studies regarding VET.
The data of the following institutions have been used:
LR Central Statistical Bureau,
LR Ministry of Welfare State Employment service
LR Ministry of Education and Science Division of Information and analysis.