RIGA - President Valdis Zatlers has sharply criticized the nation's educational system, arguing that there is no unified system of higher education in Latvia. Speaking on Aug. 13, the head of state went on to say that education would be one of the top priorities of his presidency.
The president stressed that the failure of the educational system is not the fault of any one person, including the current embattled minister of education, but is instead the result of a failure to institute a comprehensive educational system after the fall of the Soviet Union.
"Many different ideas coexist about education at present, but a [national] system does not exist," the president said in an interview with the Baltic News Service.
He pointed out that the State Auditors' Office has raised similar concerns in the past.
Latvia's education system recently underwent its greatest turmoil since 2004 when additional Latvian language requirements were placed on Russian-speaking high school students. Education Minister Baiba Rivza survived a vote of no-confidence and managed to keep her post.
Also, last minute government promises narrowly avoided a widespread teachers strike over dismally low wages, and there are increasing reports of a deficit of teachers both in grade schools and kindergartens.
Zatlers said that while his position may seem merciless, a poignant critique of the education system is necessary to spark dialogue and spur interested parties into action.
The president was unwilling, however, to point any fingers regarding the failure of the system, blaming it instead on a lack of communication between institutions from the outset.
"The problems began as elsewhere 's after regaining the independence we dissolved the old educational system. And, unfortunately, we were unable to come up with a unified system [to take its place]," Zatlers said. "We do not feel our education to be a unified system."
Zatlers, unlike his predecessor Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has first-hand experience in Latvia's (Soviet) education system. This intimacy lends his criticism certain veracity.
The president noted that the most important thing to heal the rift in the education system is strong dialogue between the government and the teachers.
"It is the fault of the educators, the ministry, not just the fault of one person. The problem could be solved only through a dialogue between the ministry and the educatorsâ€¦ this cannot be solved systematically," Zatlers said.
In her response to the president's criticism, Rivza defended the system that is in place and her actions in promoting it. "A system of several educational stages exists in Latvia, including pre-school, primary, secondary, professional and higher education," the minister told BNS. She pointed to a number of legal acts and guidelines that the government has passed in order to help develop the educational system.
At the same time Rivza admitted that increased dialogue between the government and teachers would help improve the situation.
"The more dialogue and cooperation, the better," she said. "That is why regional educators' conferences are organized. The main task of the ministry during the conferences is to provide for and to facilitate dialogue with the teachers."
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has previously noted that the educational system is unsatisfactory and in dire need of reform but would not go so far as to say a unified system did not exist.
"There are huge problems in the education system, and we all know that. I agree with that, but the system exists, of some sort. If the opposite were the fact, there would be no education at all," the prime minister said.
The president is due to speak at length on the needs of the educational system at the regional teachers' conference in Jelgava on Aug. 16.