To increase, or not to increase, the wages of teachers is a question that has been raised recently in the passionate dialog between the Ministry of Education and Science and the Education and Science Workers’ Trade Union (LIZDA). If this dialogue does not result in a successful outcome, the Union is threatening to have protest demonstrations in the middle of June.
The Union has asked for a minimum wage increase of 10 percent. We need to remember, however, that in 2009 the wages were cut by half! According to the Union’s report, approximately every fifth teacher was laid off because of a decline in wages. At the moment every sixth teacher’s wage stands at 250 lats (350 euros) a month.
Beyond any doubt, the wages of teachers should be increased. On the other hand, the debate about an increase in wages distracts the attention from much more important problems in the education sector. The necessity for an increase in wages is only the tip of the iceberg.
Latvia was the country with the greatest cut in spending on higher education in the EU after the financial crisis took place. Ireland, Poland and Hungary have reduced their spending on higher education by 5 percent, Estonia by 9 percent, but Latvia by half! In the last 15 years the number of state-financed students has decreased, from 68 percent to 27 percent of the total.
Since September 2009, 100 schools have been closed or merged due to a lack of funding. This means that every tenth school was closed in Latvia. In the next academic year there will be ten more schools closed. In addition, every fifth school in Latvia is underfinanced. Financing is the greatest problem in the area of education.
In addition, there is a drastic decline in the number of pupils due to the demographic situation that started at the beginning of the 1990s. This decline will continue, because approximately every fifth child of the citizens of Latvia nowadays is born abroad. Every academic year, the number of pupils in the country decreases by 10,000. According to World Bank data, the number of pupils at primary schools will decrease by 20 percent by 2025, but the number of students in higher education will decrease by approximately by 40 percent. By 2050 higher education will not be sustainable without the enrollment of foreign students.
There is also a high percentage of pupils (5 percent) who do not attend school. Twenty percent of male students and 10 percent of female students do not continue their studies into secondary school. Two main factors that influence the decision not to attend school are: the low income of their parents, and a lack of motivation. Furthermore, orphans and pupils with disabilities are often socially excluded from other pupils.
The ageing of teachers presents another problem. The average age of teachers in Latvia is 50. Latvia holds one of the highest percentages of teachers who work at retirement age - half of the teachers today work at retirement age (14,000 teachers out of 28,000 in total).
It is not possible to overcome these problems in the short-term, but these key problems need urgent attention. The necessity for an increase in teachers’ wages is only the tip of all the problems in the system of primary and higher education. The involved persons do not want to tackle the issue of the above-mentioned, underwater obstacles. Intentionally or unintentionally, they will eventually rise to the surface.