Latvia declared a state of emergency on 12 March (Cabinet Order No. 103 Regarding Declaration of Emergency Situation). All vocational education and training schools were closed for on-site studies as of 13 March, teaching and learning being carried out remotely, including adult education.
Remote teaching and learning
On 19 March, the National Centre for Education introduced and disseminated Recommendations for distance learning in general and vocational educational institutions, addressing school management, teachers and coordinators, to ensure pedagogical continuity during a temporary suspension of on-site learning. These recommendations can be adjusted to specific contexts and needs, making it possible for schools and teachers to develop their own strategies. It is recommended that the schools use formative assessment; there are guidelines for assessing the achievements of students in the distance learning process, both formative and summative.
VET institutions are providing live online classes and consultations, pre-recorded lectures, learning materials for independent studies, and feedback on submitted exercises and tasks. E‑class (e‑klase) is the most widely used platform for all communication between teachers, students and parents, and was used pre-crisis. Students can follow the study timetable, study subjects and receive exercises using the digital fora. Many VET institutions also use the Mykoob.lv platform, a social network which allows administration of learning processes, exchange of information and communication in schools. The educational video channel Your class (tavaklase.lv) was also created to support distance learning. It primarily targeted young pupils, but also broadcast lessons for upper grades as preparation for exams. It quickly became one of the most watched channels. In addition to videos, Your class offers the schedule, topics for each lesson, the description of the content prepared by the teacher, the teaching aids required for the lesson and other information.
The biggest internet providers in Latvia have agreed to ensure unlimited internet access to schools. VET institutions provided devices to students who needed them for remote learning. Teachers and trainers were also supported by IT specialists in VET schools. Although the pre-Covid experience of digital platforms for communication with students and parents helped a lot, remote learning required teachers to upgrade their digital skills and spend additional time in adaptation of teaching materials and communication with students.
Practical training a challenge
The biggest challenge for VET institutions is practical training, especially for students who are about to graduate and have already completed their theoretical training. While internships (including qualification practice) and work-based learning (WBL) in companies could continue if there is no risk to health and all parties agree, many companies have stopped their operations. When on-site training was not possible, company tutors or VET teachers provided tasks for remote learning. Some VET institutions have stopped in-company training altogether and restructured training schedules to offer more theoretical content for remote learning.
VET institutions could also reduce the length of internships after assessing the situation (). After lifting the state of emergency on 9 June, limited practical training can take place on-site in programmes where remote learning is not possible.
In VET, exams in general secondary education subjects will take place in June-July. Three mandatory exams are scheduled: in Latvian, foreign language and mathematics, with the possibility to take an additional exam, which is voluntary this year.
Centralised vocational exams are taking place since 8 June. Theory is examined remotely and the practical part is to take place in small groups on dates set by VET schools. Examination materials will be delivered electronically only. Safety measures include 2m distancing, not more than 25 people in a room, duration of an indoor activity no longer than three hours, availability of sanitising materials, frequent disinfecting and airing of rooms, and hand hygiene. Facial protective masks are mandatory during final exams if longer than three hours. Practical activities requiring close contact (massage, facial procedures in cosmetology) may be carried out with extra precautionary measures in place, such as facial masks, gloves and proof that all involved individuals are healthy.
As state exams for grade 9 were cancelled, they will not be required to enrol in secondary VET. The award of qualifications to VET students, and their enrolment in higher education, will not be affected.
In order to assess the situation quickly and effectively, as well as to plan and improve the distance learning process, there is continuous communication and close cooperation of the education ministry with VET institutions and other stakeholders. The ministry has also commissioned three successive surveys on implementation of distance learning during the state of emergency involving over 60 000 respondents: teachers, pupils, parents, and school directors.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the digitalisation of education was among strategic priorities and has now become even more urgent. It is currently being emphasised in policy planning for 2021-27. The development of teachers' professional competences should provide those needed for the delivery of distance learning, including proficient use of digital tools.
Cooperation at national and international levels, and sharing of innovative approaches and digital resources for teaching and learning, is crucial in challenging times.
() Order of the Cabinet of Ministers On the Declaration of Emergency Situation part 4.3.1 paragraph 2 authorises the Minister of Education and Science to take a decision in relation to the reduction of the amount of internship in programmes which are commenced after acquisition of basic education (4-year vocational secondary and 3-year vocational education programmes).