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Teacher: Latvian government deliberately oppressing Russian schools

A prominent Latvian teacher and human rights activist, former Seimas member representing For Human Rights in United Latvia Party, Jakovs Pliners told EADaily that “Eureka” private school he is working at was inspected by government agencies in quite a biased manner and may face closedown. This may be a political order, since Pliners is one of the outspoken critics of the processes against Russian-language schools in Latvia.

“Innova private school was actually killed lately. It was deprived of accreditation. Nor have they accredited educational programs of that school. The case was submitted to Latvian Supreme Court,” Pliners said recalling that Eureka private school was founded in 1993 and has grown into secondary school from primary one. “During the past 24 years, 299 children graduated from the primary school and another 190 – from the secondary one. All the graduates continue their education high schools in Latvia, Russia, Britain and other countries. Every year, Eurika students win prizes at various school Olympiads in Riga and open math Olympiad organized by Latvian University. A few years ago, our school was rated the 4th by English language and the 15th by mathematics in the rating of secondary schools in Latvia. In September 2017, Eurika staff received congratulations from Draudzīgais aicinājums (“Friendly Appeal”) Education Fund as the winner of one of the 10 nominations in the rating of city secondary schools. In 2016, Eurioa received two letters of gratitude from the Institute for Transport and Communication and High Banking Schools for proper training of students, as well as several certificates of honor from legal public organizations of Latvia. The school was awarded an Honorable Certificate of Association of Private Schools of the Latvian Republic,” the teacher said.

“Last educational year, 25 teachers from five schools of Saint Petersburg arrived to adopt our pedagogical experience,” the former parliamentarian went on. “Pedagogues from Estonia and Belarus submitted applications for a seminar; teachers from other schools in Riga have repeatedly attended our seminars. For the time being, 132 students of 1-12 grades study at Eureka; at 6 groups of kindergartens there are 76 preschool children; 55 staff members give their knowledge and warmth to children. The teaching staff comprises 26 people, including 2 doctors of pedagogy, 15 masters of pedagogy. The school pays taxes regularly – about 22,000 EUR per month, which is over 250 thousand EUR annually. We have received three letters of gratitude from State Revenue Service of Latvia (2015-2017 – J.P.). Needless to say, we had no weak students, no drugs or alcohol at school. None of our students has ever been on record at police. Teachers treat children warmly and reasonably demanding at the same time,” Jakovs Pliners said adding that teachers cooperate with parents of their students sharing their success and failures for better future.

Asked if there are any problems at school, Pliners answered: “Indeed, only idiots grow up without problems. Fortunately, our children are not such. We settle these problems one thing at a time and often prevent them. Since its establishment, the school has undergone five accreditations and all successfully for maximum period – 6 years,” he said. “So, what’s the problem? In the period from 18 up to 22 September 2017, Eureka and its educational programs were in the process of regular accreditation required by IKVD – State Education Quality Service of the Education Ministry. Head of the expert commission, R. Kalvans, Doctor of Administrative Sciences (I didn’t know there are such – J.P.), members – deputy heads of IKVD, A. Shenberg and L.Brugis (as far as I know, none of them has ever worked at a private school and is not familiar with its specifics – J.P.). Those officials spent no more than two working days at Eureka, attended ten lessons, looked through part of the documents, including personal data of teachers, had brief, hasty talks with a group of parents, students and teachers for 30-40 minutes each time. Everyone shared their positive impressions and views of the school and its administration,” Pliners said.

According to Jakovs Pliners, neither he nor director of the school was allowed to attend the meeting with parents and teachers. R. Kalvans allowed only deputy director Y. Serova to attend the meeting with students only after he was reminded that even police is not authorized to interrogate children unless their parents or teachers are present.

Of course, they asked if the school celebrates Victory Day. It would be a good chance for them to accuse it of non-loyalty. Teachers say some of the experts’ questions were controversial and biased. “By the way, in April 2017, we conducted an anonymous questionnaire survey for parents and asked them to assess many aspects of the school’s activity. All assessments were positive in 92% of answers; 6% of assessments were ‘’almost positive, and another 2% did not express their views. With all due respect to the state, parents are our main clients,” the pedagogue said.

He highlighted that unlike previous accreditations, the experts did not talk either to the director or to the founder of the school. Only L. Brugis talked to Y. Serova and reviewed documents and gave positive assessments. In a phone call, he was surprised with the negative resolution of the expert commission, Pliners said. “Specifically, the experts assessed 16 parameters of the school work: 4 were assessed as loti labi (very good – it is the highest mark); another 4 were assessed as labi (good); 6 were assessed as pietiekami (satisfactory); another 2 – pepietiekami (unsatisfactory). So, that is what this is all about! The teaching staff was assessed as “dissatisfactory” for what they called too little bilingualism at lessons and improper knowledge of the native language. I think, this problem is present at all Russian schools. Several teachers lack the required education. For instance, the experts highlighted that teacher of information, Master of Computer Sciences, who teaches information at a higher university in Riga and six lessons per week at Eureka school, he has no diploma of an information teacher. They say teacher of physics shall have a diploma of a physicist, since Master of Physics is a different diploma. Meantime, our teacher finished post-graduate studies, taught physics at a higher education establishment and schools. They claim that our art teacher was hired illegally, since she is Master of Domestic Art, but taught art at school. Meantime, her students have twice become laureates of international art contests. I can bring more such examples,” Pliners complained.

The problem is that experts are right de-jure, but under Latvian laws, neither Pushkin nor Tolstoy could teach Russian literature at school in Latvia, artist Purvitis could not teach art at school, and Maestro Raymonds Pauls could not teach music, since they have no diplomas of literature, art and music teachers, Pliners said.

The second “dissatisfactory” assessment referred to educational programs at secondary school. Experts said the school lacked new licenses for these programs, lacked subjects in Latvian, except the Latvian language and some other subjects taught bilingually, the teacher said. He recalled that the Education Law of Latvia permits education on foreign languages at private schools. “We have received termless licenses from IKVD for the programs were received in 2009 and 2010. As to the address change, we have not moved, the address was changed by Riga Duma. We applied to IKVD and received new termless licenses for our ‘old’ programs in 2016 as well as accreditation for the period until September 29, 2017. IKVD did not say either verbally or in a written way that Eureka needs to change programs and get new licenses. If this is a violation by the school administration, IKVD officials shall be blamed for this too,” the teacher said.

“Firstly, experts suggest accrediting the school for 6 years, which means that they acknowledge that this is a good school. Secondly, they do not agree to accredit educational programs of the basic and secondary school, which means bankruptcy for the school and kindergarten. If the accreditation commission approves the expert resolution, Eureka will lose state subsidies, which is about 9000 EUR per month and become bankrupt. 25% of Latvian companies may face bankruptcy. Teachers will retire ahead of time, some of them will start using doles or find another job. The government will experience big losses. Parents, who pay taxes and most of the private school services, will take their children to municipal or other private schools. The government will lose tens of thousands, Riga Duma will lose payments for leasing the school building, which totals almost 30,000 EUR per year. The building is old, so we have repaired it gradually and have already spent 10,000 EUR only on metal doors with digital security lock and playground,” the teacher said.

Pliner sees a political order behind all this, since government officials are going to kill the golden goose. “During the period of accreditation, we have eliminated or corrected the so-called lacks: we replaced teachers having no signs ‘teacher’ in their higher education diplomas,” he said. “We have applied to IKVD for licensing of ‘improved’ programs etc.” He said that the school will hold already the third training on native language, which will again distract teachers from their main responsibilities - to teach and educate children. “Please, give an advice. What to do? How to protect the Russian school? We are ready to cooperate with both IKVD and Education Ministry of Latvia. But it takes two to tango! We do not need more: either accreditation for the programs for two years, which is specified by relevant operational guidelines, or extension of accreditation of our programs for 4-5 months, which is neither specified nor banned by these guidelines. Friends, the government does to us what we let it do,” Jakovs Pliners said for conclusion.

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