by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills
Latvia has made remarkable progress in improving its education system since independence in 1991. Children now start their education at a young age – younger than in many OECD countries – and many continue into tertiary education. Student performance has also improved significantly since 2000, to the point that Latvian students scored near the OECD average in the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Will Latvia be able to continue this positive trend? Yes, but only if the country raises its teaching standards and ensures that all of its students can succeed. For example, the low salary and flat pay scale for Latvian teachers and academic staff stand at odds with the government’s ambition to improve teachers’ motivation and professional capacity. But guided by an earlier OECD report, Teacher Remuneration in Latvia: An OECD Perspective, Latvia is piloting a remuneration system as part of a new school-funding model. The aim is to make teachers’ pay competitive with that of other professions. To accomplish this aim, however, Latvian students and teachers will have to accept larger classes and higher student–to-teacher ratios. According to Education at a Glance 2015, in 2013 there was one teacher for every 9 students in Latvia, compared to an OECD average of 13 students per teacher.
Improving the country’s education-information system and its use of research to inform its education reform agenda should also be a priority. In recent years, vocational and tertiary education have benefited greatly from a series of research reports that prompted reforms to improve the quality and (labour market) relevance of education. Such efforts should be expanded to other levels of education.
Latvia’s public expenditure on education and per-student funding at all levels are lower than those in many OECD countries. The country will therefore need to make tough choices in spending if it is to obtain the best value for money. And in the longer run, Latvia should find ways to give education the priority in public policy and spending that it deserves. If Latvia would raise student learning outcomes by a further 25 points on the PISA scale, that could add almost 170 billion US$ to the Latvian economy over the lifetime of today’s school students. So the value of improved schooling will dwarf any conceivable cost of improvement.