Could Russian language teaching end in Latvia?

Latvian schoolchildren may no longer be required to learn Russian, the language of neighbouring Russia, in changes proposed by the children’s ombudsman of Latvia.

In measures to create ‘a more homogenous society’, Juris Jansons suggested that learning Russian may be causing problems for children who are already struggling to grasp their native language.

More than a quarter of Latvia’s population is Russian, and Russian is the most widely spoken minority language with more than a third of people living in Latvia speaking Russian at home, including those who are not originally from Russia.

So, with Russian such a prevalent language in Latvia, why has this change to the Latvian curriculum been proposed?

Jansons’ main arguments for ending Russian language education in Latvian schools centre on a lack of proficiency in Latvian by Russian-speaking teachers in the existing bilingual teaching system, where up to 40% of lessons may be taught in Russian. There are also concerns that non-Latvian parents may struggle to help their children with homework, meaning these children lack the Latvian support they need to succeed in the country.

In 2012, a constitutional referendum was held in Latvia to decide whether or not Russian should be adopted as the country’s official second language. The matter was overwhelmingly voted against with almost three quarters of voters rejecting the prospect.

However, rejecting Russian as an official second language does not mean that it does not play a significant role in the lives of Latvian natives. With so many Russian speakers in Latvia, it is at the very least useful for children to learn this language to enable smooth integration of Russian communities.

Russian had previously been an official language of Latvia, which may explain the ombudsman’s reasoning. Language holds strong cultural significance for many people, and by having children focus on the country’s native language it could create a renewed cultural pride.

What do you think of the measures? Do you believe that this will benefit schoolchildren in Latvia in the long run, or will it be harmful to the relationship between Latvian and Russian communities?

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