According to the Law on Emergency Situation and State of Exception, Latvia declared a state of emergency situation on 12 March. As of 13 March, Latvia suspended on-site learning. All schools and education establishments remained closed for on-site studies until 12 May. Learning was provided remotely. It was up to the school/principal how the distance teaching-learning process is carried out. Schools had to ensure that there is a contact person being present at school. In order to support their pupils in an emergency, some schools created an informative e-mail and provided a special informative phone number. Assistant service for children aged 5-18, at all levels of education, for those having functional disabilities is not suspended.
According to the state of emergency regulation, pre-school educational establishments and institutions providing childcare ensure only ‘on-duty’ groups that look after those children whose parents do not have any other option of providing childcare. Currently, pre-school institutions are attended by 6-7% of children in Latvia.
On 12 March, the Ministry introduced and disseminated a set of distance learning guidelines for general and professional education institutions. This document contains recommendations that are mainly proposed to the management, teachers and coordinators in order to ensure pedagogical continuity during a temporary suspension of obligatory regular attendance of pupils. The recommendations should be adjusted to the specific context and needs, making it possible for schools and teachers to develop their own strategies. This document is dynamic and will be updated whenever necessary. It is recommended that the schools use formative assessment; therefore, guidelines are currently being updated regarding how to assess the achievements of pupils in the distance learning process. These will also provide recommendations for the assessment of summative evaluation, given that the on-site learning process is unlikely to be resumed in this school year. Guidelines and advice for teachers, parents and ICT have been developed as well.
How distance learning was organised
Since 23 March (there were school holidays between 16-21 March), pupils were engaged in school activities remotely. In general, the first three weeks of distance learning were successfully completed. Each family with pupils had at least one digital device per household in order to perform distance learning.
There are various tools that are used during the period of distance learning. E class (e klase) is the most widely used platform for all most important information, including guidelines for teachers for providing distance learning. Pupils follow the study timetable, study subjects and receive exercises using the digital fora. Ather platforms widely used are uzdevumi.lv and soma.lv, allowing to exercise online and to receive immediate feedback.
Several free of charge tools are widely used, such as WhatsApp for teaching workforce and parents – for prompt and easy communication, or Mykoob.lv platform – a social network which ensures administration of learning process, exchange of information and communication in schools. E-mails are used for those, who are not using digital platforms.
Learning content is ensured by using Google Drive or Dropbox tools, also providing videolectures. In cooperation with the Riga Technical University digital tools for learning Physics are available on fizmix.lv, a platform for study materials which can be accessed by anyone free of charge.
Zoom is also used for webinars, communication, and virtual meetings.
Drossinternets.lv homepage for pupils on esafety includes animated educational movies.
The National Film Centre of Latvia is providing pupils with free of charge movies on history, politics, culture etc. issues included in the curricula.
Educational TV channel "Your class" (tavaklase.lv) for pupils has been created in two weeks and is on air since 6 April. It supports pupils, parents and teachers in the implementation of distance learning for 1st to 6th grade pupils, for upper grades it is broadcasted since 14 April. More than 70 teachers are involved in the project, and also a volunteering Parents Group is taking part. This new TV channel helps to address the challenges identified in the first week of distance learning: the need for a high-quality learning environment for pupils in grades 1 to 6 who may not necessarily learn planned large amount of content independently. We believe that this approach will also facilitate the distance learning process in families with several pupils.
This project also creates equal opportunities in education all over the country. It is seen as a long-lasting project when necessary substituting teachers or delivering lectures for those pupils, who are not able to be present at school. After first days it has become one of the most watched channels and in average it has been watched by more than 240 thousand persons from 70 countries.
In order to assess the situation, the Ministry together with the Educational technology company Edurio is carrying out surveys on the implementation of distance learning in the emergency situation. 60 000 respondents – teachers, pupils, parents, school directors (99.6% of schools) have been surveyed. The data obtained helps to efficiently adjust education policy to the situation. There is a platform for questionnaires, tests or interactive activities.
Currently, it is not foreseen to extend the school year for general education institutions. Learning will be provided remotely by the end of the school year. There are no centralised state examinations in general education during the period of emergency situation. Foreign language examinations for 12th grade are postponed from March to early June. Diagnostic tests for 11th grade in Physics and Chemistry that were planned in April have been cancelled. State exams for grades 9 and 12 have not been cancelled at this stage. A decision to postpone, perform remotely or cancel examinations will be taken on the basis of the development of the epidemiological situation and on the advice of experts, assessing public health and safety above all other considerations.
A number of scenarios under strict safety measures are considered to conduct the examinations. Dates of the state exams are moved to June for grades 9 and 12, with a possible additional deadline by the end of July. It is planned that grade 9 will have one integrated exam including Latvian, foreign language, history and mathematics. For grade 12, three mandatory exams are scheduled– in Latvian, foreign language and mathematics, in addition the possibility of taking a fourth exam, which is voluntary and on optional basis. Schools implementing study programmes with minority language of instruction will be organising the national language exam in a content-wise unchanged form.