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Changes in the curriculum in Latvia – what do educators think about the new reform? [podcast]

Sandra Užule - Fons

The Latvian Ministry of Education and Science is proposing a number of changes to the current approach to education in order to develop, approve and successively introduce a curriculum which would develop value-based knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary in the 21st century. For the first time the curriculum is being reviewed in its entirety by introducing a uniform competence-based approach at all levels of education, starting from the age of one and a half and up to the 12th grade. This project is called “Competency approach in the curriculum” or School 2030 (Skola 2030). We at the Holistic Think Tank have written recently about the education reform in Latvia, which has introduced a novel competences approach into the teaching process.

More on the project here: Competence approach to curriculum – reform of the Latvian education system

Today we are talking to educators about how this reform works in practice. 

Dita Lapiņa, a teacher of English in Riga’s 3rd State Gymnasium and project School 2030 reform coordinator in the teaching of foreigh languages explains to us what stage the reform is at today: “It’s close to the end of the introduction stage. The reform started step by step, first in preschools, and then at the same time in grade 4, 7, 10 and then every year one grade was added, one form. The only forms studying according to the old system are forms 3, 6, 9 and 12. The other ones are in the new system already. So next year will be the final year [for adding the remaining forms] and the final year for the project as well, so we will have completed active implementation. Currently we understand that we need to support teachers”, Dita says, adding that for teaching foreign languages support is necessary in the examination process. 

She also points out the main difficulties presented by the reform from the teacher’s point of view: “I have identified three major areas of difficulty. First is preparation. Now you cannot imagine yourself coming to the class and saying: “page 57 exercises from 1 to 5”. Obviously, you have to think about raising interest, what they already know, what they are supposed to know, what they would like to know. I have to prepare for each grade separately, because they have different needs and we have an individualized approach. The second area is connected to real life, especially grammar. The biggest challenge for me is giving feedback, because it’s not enough to give a plus or minus, great, thumbs up etc. Now the feedback should be meaningful and show the areas where there is room for improvement, which if you have a lot of students is quite difficult. One more area is cross-curricular links. It’s very difficult in the current stage to find teachers from other subjects who would like to have something in common with other fields of study . Because we are still trying to buy into each other’s areas. If they learn something in biology I can use it while teaching English, so I should know what they learn in biology, which is challenging, because you have to know everything”, – says Dita Lapiņa.

Changes in the curriculum in Latvia – what do educators think about the new reform? (Episode 7)

The Latvian Ministry of Education and Science is proposing a number of changes to the current approach to education in order to develop, approve and successively introduce a curriculum that would develop value-based knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary in the 21st century. This project is called “Competency approach in the curriculum” or School 2030 (Skola 2030). Today we are talking to educators about how this reform works in practice.

Ilona Ustinova, Daugavpils City Education Department methodologist, a teacher of English in the Secondary School No.9 in Daugavpils stresses that among  the competences in the learning process the most important are critical thinking and problem solving. “When they think creatively, they have to reflect through thinking, to create through thinking, and to criticize through thinking to come to a conclusion. Another competence is of course creativity and entrepreneurship. They have to study to be entrepreneurs from an early age. Another one is cooperation, they have to know how to cooperate with each other to achieve their goals. Then they have to be active in society and they should develop digital competence. It’s completely different from studying ten years ago when we didn’t use digital technologies during lessons, nowadays we can’t survive without them. One of the main competences of this reform is autonomous learning. When students are ready to study themselves, a teacher is only a facilitator who offers them the questions, the ideas, and they have to find the answers themselves and then present them in front of the class and maybe come to a conclusion together”. 

Several changes have been introduced to the syllabus, claims Dita Lapiņa. “Basically we have come from knowledge and skills to a more competence based approach, to analysis, to values, for example, honesty, responsibility. Sometimes we forget about them and we think it’s something for advisory classes or for the family, but actually in each subject we should also think about our system of values. It’s very important, especially nowadays when we have so many challenges, and students grow up with new technologies. So analyses, values and practical application, plus cross-curricular links in the subjects so students see their subjects as a whole”. 

Meanwhile, Ilona Ustinova mentions what has changed in children’s attitudes to learning after the introduction of the reform. “Of course we could expect that there would be a lot of changes in children’s attitudes, but as you know the pandemic didn’t allow us and our students to work according to plan. We even cannot speak now about big changes, only a few steps were taken. Students have started to understand that they have to cooperate with each other, they know how to work with projects, because project work has been introduced in different subjects, not only in the languages. Maybe now students understand that they do not work with only one subject, they can work at the same time with several subjects, with one topic covering different subjects. At this point their attitude has changed, because they can see the common line, they can see one unit, not only just math – one topic, English – one topic, history – another topic. Teachers work in close cooperation, and that means that students also work in cooperation with their subject and with each other”. She adds that to achieve such cooperation what helps, among other things, is Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), an approach in which students learn a subject and a foreign language at the same time.

About the author
Sandra Užule - Fons
Holds Ph.D. in history, journalist, documentary filmmaker. Researcher and author of scientific and other publications about the Baltic States and media. Her professional career started in Warsaw in Polish Public Radio working for more than 10 years as an editor in Polish Radio External Service. She cooperates with media outlets in the implementation of media projects in Central Europe and Post-soviet countries. Currently, she is working on an alternative school project.
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