Quo Vadis, Cultural Education in Latvia

Author: Alina Romanovska – Daugavpils University – Latvia

A variety of factors such as specific features of cultural and historical development of a country, its strategic development objectives in the fields of cultural policy, the economy and culture, the ethnic composition of the population, social behaviour, etc. determine cultural education development in a given country. National priorities in the area of cultural education are reflected in policy documents and curricula, the analysis of which gives an idea of the most important objectives and forms of future development. Such an analysis allows a full understanding of how cultural education will develop in the particular country in the future. Within the framework of the CHIEF project implemented in Latvia, the key policy documents in the field of cultural education and curricula were analysed. They provide an insight into cultural education development priorities in a specific country and potential obstacles to their implementation. The comparative analysis of these documents shows the extent to which the cultural education priorities defined in policy documents coincide with or differ from those set out in curricula as well as reveals the consistency of achieving the objectives specified in long-term policy documents.(1)

Latvia has long been a multi-ethnic and multilingual country, and this peculiarity is highlighted at the level of today’s official policy as an important value for Latvia at both national and international levels. Latvia’s experience in building a multicultural environment and multicultural education system has been officially recognised as a positive factor in the European Union.(2) The cultural heritage of Latvia preserved to this day consists of a set of tangible and intangible cultural heritage values of the entire population of Latvia regardless of ethnicity. Contemporary curricula support and introduce the mentioned understanding of culture in the education system. In order to consistently adhere to the strategic cultural guidelines of policy documents, the education reform is underway and will contribute to contemporary acquisition of culture at schools.

The Sustainable Development Strategy of Latvia 2030 defines the development of Latvian cultural space as one of the most important priorities, because “the identity of a strong and creative nation is rooted in our unique, inherited and newly created material and spiritual values. It unites and consolidates society for creating new economic, social and cultural values that are also valued and recognised in the world.”(3)

Latvian legislation highlights a variety of important functions for culture in the formation of society and state. The two most significant cultural policy priorities defined in the key long-term and medium-term policy documents (e.g. Sustainable Development Strategy of Latvia until 2030; Cultural Policy Guidelines 2014-2020, National Development Plan of Latvia for 2014-2020, etc.) are: (1) building a creative society and (2) strengthening the sense of belonging to the cultural space of Latvia.
Creativity plays a particularly important role in both individual and national development, since a creative person contributes not only to national culture but also to economic development. The enhancement of cultural literacy is one of the most important means of shaping a creative individual and creative society. Policy documents state that “art and culture are the quickest way to open and develop creative capabilities of an individual.”(4) However, in curricula, the development of the creative capacity of pupils is linked mainly to personal growth, and to a lesser extent to cultural development of the country.

Thus, in the sense of creativity, there is a discrepancy between the long-term/medium-term cultural policy strategy and its specific introduction into education. In curricula, creativity does not play as important a role as in policy documents, e.g. curricula do not reflect the idea that cultural literacy could contribute to the overall economic development of the country through the development of young people’s creativity.

The second cultural policy priority identified in Latvian policy documents, i.e. strengthening the sense of belonging to the cultural space of Latvia, is strongly emphasised in curricula. This priority is particularly important in ethnic minority school programmes, but it is also implemented in schools with Latvian as the language of instruction. To strengthen the sense of belonging to the State of Latvia, much attention is paid to teaching the Latvian language and cultural traditions of the Latvian people. In this respect the curricula of the formal education system comply with the cultural development strategy outlined in Latvia’s long-term and medium-term policy documents, one of the most important components of which is the preservation of cultural heritage. In schools, the preservation of cultural heritage is ensured by transferring knowledge about the cultural characteristics of Latvia.

Latvian policy documents and curricula highlight the desire to strengthen the role of the Latvian language in Latvia, thereby indirectly pointing to the fragile situation of the Latvian language as a small language and its possible disappearance. The desire to strengthen the role of the Latvian language and belonging of ethnic minorities to the State of Latvia is associated with both the relatively large share of ethnic minorities in Latvia (according to the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, there were 62 % of Latvians and 38 % of representatives of other ethnicities in Latvia in 2017(5))and historical peculiarities, i.e. being part of the Soviet Union when the ethnic peculiarities of the population were not respected, and the role of the Latvian language was subverted.

The Latvian multicultural environment constitutes the basis for interaction of various cultures. New studies suggest that the multicultural composition of Latvia’s population and specificities of the cultural environment (e.g. the multicultural Latvian environment, political openness and the possibility to establish contacts with foreign residents, development of digital technologies, etc.) contribute to the formation of the population’s hybrid identity.(5) Given the current developments of cultural policy, cultural environment and cultural education, the hybrid identity of the population has become a common phenomenon in Latvia.

Policy documents of Latvia state that the cultural space of Latvia is a multicultural environment where all ethnic cultures are respected.(7) However, the documents emphasise that it is the task of every inhabitant of Latvia to preserve and develop Latvian culture, since Latvia is the only place in the entire world offering every opportunity to do so. The ideas contained in the above policy documents are being consequently introduced into existing curricula where the ideas of tolerance and multiculturalism play an important role.

In the context of strengthening the Latvian cultural heritage and the sense of belonging to the cultural space of Latvia, the Latvian identity is highlighted in education, the formation and strengthening of which is also the priority of the national cultural policy. In policy documents, the Latvian identity is regarded as an integral part of a European cultural identity. Therefore, Latvian culture must be preserved in order to ensure European cultural diversity. The aspect of cultural diversity is also mentioned in curricula, pupils can acquire a relatively broad knowledge of the stages and specificities of European cultural development and compare the development of other European cultures with Latvian cultural development and specificities.

Policy documents and curricula provide a common understanding of cultural education development priorities in Latvia. Thus, Latvia’s cultural policy and cultural education can be considered consistent and sequential. The key development priorities defined both in policy documents and curricula are development of the population’s creativity and strengthening of its belonging to the State of Latvia. The population’s tolerance is also a prerequisite for a country’s development. The above tolerance develops successfully in a multicultural environment peculiar to Latvia over the centuries. To meet the aforementioned priorities of cultural education, the education system is being gradually modified by introducing the competence approach and making substantial changes to the curricula content. Overall, the objectives set in the framework documents of the European Commission have been adhered to, thus positioning Latvia as part of the European cultural space.


Endnotes

1Materials of two project reports have been used in this publication: 1) Romanovska, A. (2018) National Cultural/Educational Policy Review (Latvia), in G. Fooks, E. Stamou and K. McNie (eds) National Cultural/Educational Policy Review: Deliverable report, Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future. European Commission, pp. 121- 161, available online at http://chiefproject.eu/delivrables/national-cultural-educationalpolicy-review/; 2) Romanovska, A. (2019) National Curricula Review (Latvia), in E. Marmer and T. Zurabishvili (eds) National/federal Curricula Review: Deliverable report, Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future. European Commission, pp. 111- 141, available online at http://chiefproject.eu/wp-content/uploads/Chief-WP2_D2.1_National-Curriculum-Review-Reports_v1.0_14.01.19.pdf
2Izglītības un zinātnes ministrija(2017) Informācija par pāreju uz mācībām valsts valodā vispārējās izglītības iestādēs, kas īsteno mazākumtautību izglītības programmas. http://www.izm.gov.lv/lv/aktualitates/2624-informacija-par-pareju-uz-macibam-valsts-valoda-visparejas-izglitibas-iestades-kas-isteno-mazakumtautibu-izglitibas-programmas
3Vides aizsardzības un reģionālās attīstības ministrija (2010) Latvijas ilgtspējīgas attīstības stratēģija līdz 2030. gadam. http://www.pkc.gov.lv/sites/default/files/Saturs/Latvija_2030.pdf.
4Ibid.
5Centrālā statistikas pārvalde.www.csb.gov.lv
6Kačāne I., Romanovska A. (2017). Representation of Hybrid Identities in Contemporary Latvian Literature. Forum for World Literature Stidies. Vol.9, No.2, p. 217-234.
7Vides aizsardzības un reģionālās attīstības ministrija (2010) Latvijas ilgtspējīgas attīstības stratēģija līdz 2030. gadam. http://www.pkc.gov.lv/sites/default/files/Saturs/Latvija_2030.pdf.


About the author

Dr. Alina Romanovska is a researcher of the Centre of Cultural Research of the Institute of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Daugavpils University, Latvia. Her main field of research is cultural anthropology, identity, comparative studies.She has authored more than 60 publications and a monograph, and she is also the editor of the Journal of Comparative Studies issued by Daugavpils University.