RIGA - Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, alarmed at deficiencies in the nation's education system, announced that he would place a priority on improving Latvia's secondary schools and universities.
The unemployment rate among people with university degrees has been growing in Latvia, the prime minister said, adding that 76 percent of the nation's unemployed graduated from state-funded schools.
More pressing is students' curriculum preference, he said.
Kalvitis pointed out that only 16 percent of high-school graduates choose professions in demand. the education system should place an emphasis on spheres that will ensure students a place in the job market, he said.
The government chief expressed satisfaction over beginning efforts to change the state curriculum, most of which are focusing on the sciences.
"In general, Latvia's education system is good and ranks high among EU members. Our problem is the low number of students graduating with degrees in math and the technical sciences," Olgerts Tipans, head of Education Minister Ina Druviete's office, told The Baltic Times. "The government is afraid this number isn't sufficient to provide the future's work force."
Meanwhile, Kalvitis reiterated that education was vital for improving Latvia's competitive advantage. "Competitiveness is our key to the future," he said.
Members of Parliament's social and labor affairs committee sharply criticized the quality of teaching in Latvia's schools at a meeting on Feb. 8.
Inguna Ribena, a lawmaker from the ruling New Era party, pointed out that, judging from her own children's experience, the quality of teaching has significantly worsened in Latvia. As a result, she's put more effort herself into educating her children at home.
Ribena's fellow party member, Ausma Kantane, was even tougher in her criticism, alleging that schools were producing "defective and spiritually crippled" graduates.
The MP described the present situation as miserable. The system neglects spiritual values and fails to instill necessary human qualities like self-control and sympathy, she said. As a result, graduates' only motivation is to earn by doing as little work as possible.
The New Era lawmaker blamed pedagogues for pupils' attitudes, saying that teachers are often indifferent toward their work and lack many essential qualities. "It is necessary to educate not only the mind, but also the heart," Kantane said.
Tipans, however, feels the problem is not with Latvian teachers. "Students' test scores have been mostly consistent with those of Europe, if not higher. It's just that our tests 's and education system - don't prioritize the important areas of math, natural science and technical science."
It is little surprise, he said, that most Latvian students choose degrees in the humanities and social sciences: "During the Soviet period, these areas were drowned with communist propaganda. So after re-independence, we saw a huge jump in the number of students studying political science, history and the arts."
But like Kalvitis, Tipans emphasizes the need for graduates in the technical and scientific field. "We can't forget the country's industrial needs," he said.
Ilze Stobova, who represents a governmental task force solving labor-market forecast issues of and education policy, said the Regional Development and Municipal Affairs Ministry, together with the Education and Science Ministry, were working to improve pedagogues' teaching skills, especially in the fields of mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry.
According to Stobova, worsening test results show the need for implementing a new educational method with these areas. Beginning in 2008, math and natural sciences will be mandatory subjects in state-wide final exams. Therefore, teachers must begin preparing a curriculum as early as today.
She added that engineering specialists were in increasingly high demand, but young people were denied jobs due to their poor knowledge of mathematics and natural sciences