* Latvia Latvian schools

Latvian Schools

Figure 1.--This is the school uniform designed by Latvian fashion designers as formal uniform for Latvian schoolboys for the warmer months. It was, however, never implemented because it was not approved by the Soviet school authorities. This drawing appeared in the magazine "Rabotnitsa" (Moscow) about 1975. Strangely, fashions show-cased in Soviet fashion magazines were usually not available in stores.

Latvian education has beem strongly affected by both German and Russian influences. The German influence cintiunued even after Tsarist Rissian seized control of the Baltics (18th century). Thi was because of the substantial German popultion in the cities. Tsarist Russia began a Russification process. After a brief period of independence, the Soviet Union continued the Russification process even more forecefully. Latvia has undergone many wrenching political changes in the 20th century which have affected the education system. Latvia is a small country and the country and schools have been affected by the Russian goliath which has set out to Rusify the country during both the Tsarist and Soviet eras. The language of instruction wa one of many tools. The development of the Latvian educational system can be divided into several destinct periods which basically follow the important periuoids in modern Latvian history abd state development We have no information on what Latvian school children wore in the Tsarist era or during the brief period of independence before the 1940 Soviet invasion. As a Soviet Republic, Latvian school children wore the same standard school uniform worn all over the Soviet Union. Latvian designers suggested a change of uniform in 1975, but it was not approved by Soviet authorities. After independence in 1991, the Soviet uniform was dropped, but we do not yet have information on schoolwear in independent Latvia.


Latvia was for years part of the Russian Empire but obtained independence as part of the World War I Peace settlement and disorders associated with the Russian Revolution. Independent Lituanian was incorprated by the Soviets in 1940 after the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agession Pact of 1939. Soviet rule was short-lived as the Germans quickly occuplied Lituanian after they invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Soviets did not reistablish Communist rule until 1944. The United States and other western countries never recognized Soviet jurisdiction and Lithuania became an indepedent country in 1991 when the Soviet Union disolved.

Chronological Periods

Latvia has undergone many wrenching political changes in the 20th century which have affected the education system. The development of the Latvian educational system can be divided into several destinct periods which basically follow the important periods in modern Latvian history and state development. Latvia is a small country and the country and schools have been affected by the larger countries all around it, especially Germany and Russia. The first cities in Latvia were founded by German tradersa s part of the Hanseatic League. The first schools were founded by Germans in Riga. The Germans had a profound imoact in Latvian education. And this continued even after the Tsarist Russians seized control (19th centurty). This only ended after a brief period of independence with the Soviet take over (1940s). The Russian goliath which has set out to Rusify the country during both the Tsarist and more thoriughly during the Soviet eras. The language of instruction was one of many tools of Russification. Latvian regained its independence with the disolution of the Soviet Union.(1991). We do not yet have much infotmation on educatioin in modern Latvia.

Medieval era

The first known education institutions in what is now Latvia were established German missionaries (13th century) The first school was estanlished in Riga for the children of German feudal lords. The language of instruction was of course Latin. The Baltics became under the domination of the German Hanseatic League. The first secular school wasalso established in Riga for the children of Riga’s property owners (1353). German was the language of instruction, but Latin was taught. The first schools for Latvians were opened with the Reformation which rapidly reached the Baltic area. With the emphasis on Bible study, the Lutheran church opened schools in the cities (16th-17th centuries). The Latvian peasantry in the countrysudev at first remained uneducated.

Tsarist Russia (1772-1919)

Latvia was for years part of the Russian Empire. Tsarist Russia gained control of the Baltics gradually, but all of Latvia was under Russian control (by 1772). Russia lagged behind Western Europe in building a public school system, but German influences in the cities meant that schools were more available than in the Empire at large, especilly in the cties. Much of the Latvian ethnic population in the countryside had only limited access to schools. Tsar Alexander I initiated school reforms (1802). This required feudal lords to build schools for peasants on heir estates. The law was, however, not strictly enforced. Some of the feudal lords opened schools. Others did not. As a result, the principal way for Latvian peasant children to learn to read was by being taught at home. Here theLuther Church was important. In eastern Latvia the Polish Catholic influence was important, fewer children learned to read. As an experiment, the serfs in the Baltic were emnacipated (1817-19). This proved to proote education as the peasantry benefited economically from the mobility afforded them. The formal school system was closely linked to the Lutheran Church. Tsar Alexander III expanded the Russification policy (late-19th century). Russian language classes became mandatory. Educational standards in Latvia, as with the Baltics, in general were among the highest in the Tsarist Empire. [Zogla, et. al, p. 418.] We are unsure how schooling was affected by Tsarist Russification policies (late-19th century). The language of instruction was a problem. General literacy was chieved (1890s). We have no information at this time on what Latvian school children wore in Imperial Russia. Tsarist rule ended as a consequence of the World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Independence (1919-40)

Upon achieving independence after World War I, Latvia for the first time began building a national education system. The schools had been ibfluebced by both Russia and Germany. While Russia completely contrplled Latvia (by 1772), the strong German presence in the cities influenced the education system. Educators described building a school system on democratic and humanist principles. An important goal was to establish a national identity in a country that in addition to the Latvian majority included ethnic Germans, Russians, Jews and others. For the firsrt time, the right to recieve education in the Latvian language at all levels was guaranteed. Almost immeditely laws were passed 'On Latvian education institutions' and 'On Latvian minority school format' (1919). These were the foundation for free, compulsory primary education for all children aged 7/8-to 14 years. Latvia was, however, badly damaged by World War I ad disrupted by the Bloshevik attempt to comquer the Baltics. A shortage of funds and the lck of trained teachers made this impossible to immeditely achive. At first only about a thirds of school-age children actually attended school. Latvia rapidly established a modern, unified three-level system. There were six-years of primary education, four-years of secondary education (specialist secondary or vocational education), and higher education. Education was made available in all minority languages, establishing equal and democratic principles with respect to all nationalroups Latvia. Latvian national minorities were free to establishing schools. And German, Russian, Belorussian, Jewish, Lithuanian, and Estonian schools were established along with the Latvian schools. Language issues continued to be a major contriversy. Latvian educators had no desire to teach Russian, preferring Western lanuages. The minority schools were taught in German or Russian. There were concerns about the devisive nature of the system as well as the competitive impact on Latvian students. All these schools were supported by municipal or state authorities. Some private schools were opened.

Soviet invasion (1940-41)

The Soviet Union after signing a Non-aggression Pact with NAZI Germany in 1939, invaded and occupied Latvia and the other Baltic Republics (1940). The NKVD carried out a brutal campaign to subgecate thevLstvian people. Msny Latvians were executed and whole fanilies deported to Central Asia. Among these targeted were groups perveived as associated with Latvian national culture, includiung school teachers. We do not have information on schoolwear during this period. The Soviets had a school uniform, but there probably was not time to fully make the change. The Young Pioneers was brought into the school, but uniforms in this period were not as commonly worn as after the War. Here we see boys wearing the Young Pioneer uniforms for a school play. We have noted that in the Soviet Union that children often wore Young Pioneer uniforms for special occassions, but most children might more commonly just wear the red neckerchief.

NAZI invasion (1941-44)

The NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and within weeks Latvia was occupied. Many Latvians considered the NAZIs liberators from Soviet oppression. Unlike in Poland, schools continued to function in Latvia. We have no details on school operations and schoolwear trends.

Soviet rule (1944-91)

Latvia was occupied by the Red Army in 1944. There were many arrests after liberation of people who were accused of collaboration with the NAZIs or believed to be Ltvian nationlists. Large numbers of ethnic Latvians were resettled elsewhere in the Soviet Union, a process begn during the World War II occuption (1940-41). Many ethnic Russians migrated to Latvia because of the better econpmic conditions. The resiult was a substantical shift in the ethnic balnce. Latvia was subject to Siviet laws mandating a highly centralized school system. Soviet law did allow some destinctive characteristics in the schools of the 16 republics, including a degree of national traditions. Compulsory secindary education was achieved (1980s). Sone 90 percentbof the school age popultion comprehensive or vocationl secindary schools. The programs, texts, and teaching methods werecstandardized throughout the Soviet Union. One source describes the Soviet system as being biased toward theory ratherv than 'practical applicability'. [Zogla, et. al, p. 419.] Some liberalization occurred at the end of the Siviet era as a result of perestroika. Standard Soviet school uniforms were introduced into Latvian schools. Latvian clothing designers suggested a change of uniform in 1975, but it was not approved by Soviet authorities.

Independence (1991- )

Latvia thus set out to replace centralism with autonomy, obtain international recognition of Latvian educational diplomas and degrees, and introduce a Western-type structure to the degrees and qualifications earned in Latvia. After independence the Soviet uniform was dropped. The current Latvian system includes 12 years of free public education, and a choice of subjects at the upper secondary school level. Private schooling is now legal in Latvia. The first step in reforming Latvian education after the end of Communism was to create a system which conformed the Latvian educational system to international standards. Educational authorities applied the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) indicators. The kanguagevof instruction continues to be an issue. An education law required that a specufied amount of instruction be provided in the Latvian language in the country’s minority schools (1998). Minority schools include Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Romany, Russian, and Ukrainian. This is permitted to preserve each minority’s heritage and culture.


Zogla, Irena, Eudite, and Emilija Cernova. "Latvia," in Hörner, Wolgang, Hans Döbert, Botho von Kopp, Wolfgang Mitterhe, eds. Education Systems of Europe.


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Created: December 5, 2002
Last updated: 4:57 AM 11/9/2020