• April 6, 2018
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Radchenko: The Latvian alternative would affect the integration of national minorities

Latvia continues the gradual liquidation of the education in languages ​​of national minorities. Knowing the delights of the right side of the Lithuanian political scene with all kinds of “Latvian variants” – I have the impression that soon similar initiatives may appear in Lithuania.

The President of the Republic of Latvia has signed the amendment to the Education Act, which for many years has been postulated by the nationalist National Alliance. The reform is to start on 1 September 2019 and be acomplished in 2021. Three distinguished bilingual education models will be used in the national minority schools: in classes 1-6 – 60% of subjects will be, as before, taught in Latvian, and the remaining 40 percent in the mother tongue of the student. In the other three classes around 80 percent of subjects will be taught in Latvian, and the only language to be used in grades 10-12 will be Latvian. It will be possible only to learn the national languages ​​themselves with some elements of literature and history of “mother countries” in the language of the national minority.

I am afraid that soon a similar reform may attract some Lithuanian politicians for whom Latvian nationalists have been serving an unattainable role model for years. When in 2004 Latvians introduced a 60/40 teaching model in schools of national minorities – a similar model was introduced in 2012 in Estonia, and now Estonians admit that it did not give positive results – where in 60% of schools of national minorities subjects are taught in Latvian, and a 40 % in the language of the national minority. Similar initiatives were soon after created in Lithuania. As a result of protests of citizens, the Lithuanian reform of education in 2011 was much milder than Latvian – in Polish and Russian-language schools, only the Lithuanian matura exam was standardized and only a few subjects in Lithuanian were introduced. But the idea of ​​introducing the 60/40 model or the liquidation of Polish-language and Russian-language education has not died at all and considering what is currently happening in Latvia – it is worth starting a campaign explaining its negative effects and looking for allies in the fight against such ideas. Allies not in the Kremlin, but among Lithuanians. The sleigh you prepare in the summer – indicates a famous Russian saying. And one has to agree with the Russians, as not to be the typical Pole, who is wise only after the damage.

It is very important to make our brothers-Lithuanians aware that the liquidation of education in the languages ​​of national minorities would be a geopolitical mistake. One could still ignore – as ignored by Latvians – the criticism of such a “reform” from the Kremlin, but in the face of a conflict with Russia, to jeopardize the relationship and a strategic ally – Poland – would be an action on the verge of idiocy and political harakiri. However, above all, such a “reform” would strike the integration of national minorities and the teaching of the state language.

There is a direct relationship between a student academic achievement and the language in which he or she studies. Many studies conducted by UNESCO, the UN and even the World Bank indicate that children learn and remember the most when taught in their mother tongue, especially during the first 6-8 years of learning. The results of these studies also indicate that such a way of teaching increases self-confidence, self-esteem, reduces the likelihood of school dropping, gives better results in learning. However strange it may sound, taught in the mother tongue, the child better and more easily assimilates the state language as one’s second language. In 2011, a report handed out by the Danish research institute AKF (Anvendt Kommunalforskning) was published on the subject of teaching bilingual pupils in Sweden and Denmark. In Denmark, the emphasis in schools was on learning Danish language and Danish culture, whereas in Sweden, apart from learning Swedish language, migrant children could learn their mother language and some subjects in their native language. It turned out that the results of students from migrant families in Sweden (including results from Swedish language and mathematics) were statistically much better than the results of children from migrant families in Denmark. When teaching is not conducted in the native language – student’s achievement is statistically 1/3 worse than of a student who study in his or her native language! Not coincidentally, countries with the highest level of illiteracy – these are the countries in which teaching in schools takes place in a state language, which is not the mother tongue for the majority of the inhabitants of this country (mainly the former English and French colonies in Africa and Asia).

Besides, the initiators of the new Latvian school reform admit that the main goal of the reform is not to improve the teaching of the Latvian language, which young Russians from Latvia know well enough, but only to solve the disloyalty of a large part of the Russian-speaking minority. Because it turned out that despite the knowledge of the Latvian language, the young Latvian Russians more often identify themselves with Russia and Putin than Latvia. It seems to me, however, that those who, on the faint effects of the 60/40 model, postulate the introduction of the 80/20 model or even 100/0, rather resemble a steam locomotive driver, who, on account of the boiler overheating, gives the smokers the command: add more coal to the furnace. Destruction of education in the mother tongue only leads to even greater alienation, frustration and critical attitude of the national minority towards the country of residence, and not to its greater integration.

If we want to truly connect the majority and national minorities into one political nation, if we want to wrest national minorities from the clutches of Kremlin propaganda (and this is a problem not only in Latvia but also in Lithuania; indeed, not only national minorities are in these claws in Lithuania – last year’s study of the Center for Eastern European Studies shows that 24 % Lithuanians believe that Russia does not pursue unfriendly politics towards Lithuania, and 16 % do not this is not the subject of a good sentence) – we must not take their native language from schools. We szhould offer attractive alternatives to the Kremlin sources of information in their native language, include them in the national  narrative, in social and state structures, and invest in the development of minority education national. By investing in teaching in a minority language we will get a better educated minority, and that means having a chance for better studies, better work, which in the end contributes to the economic and social success of both the minority and our entire country.

Translated by Katarzyna Widlas within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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