The goal of vocational education is to provide opportunities for further education after the elementary or secondary school, to acquire initial vocational qualifications, develop skills for continuing vocational education, and acquire the right to continue education at a higher education level. Vocational institutions in Latvia offer educational programs in all sectors of economy.
Good communication skills, knowledge of mathematics, natural and social sciences, the ability to communicate in a foreign language and the ability to use modern information technologies are required by the modern employment market, therefore these subjects and skills are included in educational curriculums. In addition, attention is paid during vocational education to the development of determination and understanding of environmental protection and intercultural understanding, as well as self-development of youth to help them create a successful career and life. The study process is organised in such a way that theory learning in the classroom is alternated with practical training in school workshops and laboratories, as well as subsequent courses in businesses or institutions.
According to the Vocational Education Law, the level of vocational qualification is the theoretical and practical preparedness, which provides an opportunity to perform work corresponding to a certain level of complexity and responsibility:
- vocational initial education ā vocational education of a basic level, which provides a possibility to obtain a first level vocational qualification;
- vocational basic education ā partial secondary level vocational education which provides a possibility to obtain a second level vocational qualification;
- vocational secondary education ā medium level vocational education, which provides a possibility to obtain a vocational third level qualification;
- vocational further education ā a special kind of vocational education which provides an opportunity for adults with previous education and professional experience to acquire a specific level vocational qualification;
- vocational in-service training ā a special kind of vocational education which provides an opportunity for individuals, irrespective of their age and previous education or vocational qualification, to acquire systematic vocational knowledge and skills corresponding to the requirements of the labour market;
- vocational oriented education ā systematic acquisition of knowledge and skills, and creation of value orientation in arts, culture and sports in addition to the level of primary or secondary education, which provides an opportunity to prepare for the acquisition of professional education in the selected field.
Vocational initial education, partial secondary education (vocational initial education) or vocational secondary education may be acquired at vocational educational institutions of the appropriate level: trade schools, vocational secondary schools or technical schools.
Trade schools admit people with basic education, and in some cases even with incomplete basic education. Programs with incomplete basic education carry out professional basic education programs focused on the professional preparedness, which allows the performance of very simple work tasks corresponding to the 1st vocational qualifications level. For individuals who have completed primary school education, trade schools offer vocational training programs geared towards acquiring the knowledge and skills required for the 2nd vocational qualifications level. The length of these educational programs is from two to three years. Integrated in vocational training programs are general subjects to the extent that entitles the program graduates to continue their education in vocational secondary education programs.
Vocational secondary schools offer vocational secondary education programs, where the duration of studies after acquiring compulsory basic education is usually four years, as one simultaneously acquires general secondary and vocational education. Vocational secondary schools are also entitled to carry out one-year and two-year vocational education programs for students with previously acquired secondary education. Vocational secondary education programs are focused on acquiring the knowledge and skills required for the 3rd vocational qualifications level. Integrated in vocational secondary education programs are general subjects to the extent that entitles the program graduates to study at higher level education programs.
Technical schools carry out vocational secondary education programs, but in contrast to vocational secondary schools, these educational institutions have been granted the status of a professional education competence centre, pointing to higher requirements for the schoolās operations and higher educational performance.
Contents of vocational education programs are determined by the state vocational secondary education standard and the occupational standard. Vocational education programs are developed and implemented in accordance with all branches of economy in Latvia. During studies, assessment according to a 10 point system is performed for theoretical and practical classes, seminars, laboratory work, project consultations, independent study projects and subject/course examinations or tests. The assessment is based on a variety of methods: tests, projects, individual and team work, and practice reports. Vocational education programs are concluded by centralised examinations or other state tests.
After acquiring an accredited vocational education program and passing vocational qualifications and other final examinations provided in the state vocational education standard, an appropriate state-recognised vocational education document will be issued ā a certificate of basic vocational education, a certificate of vocational secondary (partial) education or a certificate of vocational secondary education. Certificate of vocational secondary education entitles one to continue education at higher level college or university vocational education programs.
Even after acquiring general secondary or vocational education, one may acquire vocational further education programmes (duration from 1 to 3 years) or vocational in-service training programmes (duration not less than 160 academic hours, which can be a part of the qualification). Internationally this level of education is referred to as post-secondary education (ISDEC level 4), but not as higher education. In Latvia this education is classified as a secondary level education. These programs are focused only on the acquisition of professional knowledge and skills according to the level of the vocational qualification requirements. The process of education and assessment of education results is organised in a way that is similar to other secondary vocational programs.
Vocational education is characterised by vocational education institutions that specialise in certain education thematic areas offering students to acquire corresponding professions. Therefore, students from different regions of Latvia study at vocational education institutions, and vocational education institutions provide an opportunity to live in dormitories. Each student of a vocational education institution receives a grant starting from seven lats per month. In addition to the state grant, each student of a state, municipal or private vocational education institution, who studies in accredited vocational education or vocational secondary education programmes, has an opportunity to receive scholarship under the European Social Fund project āRaising attractiveness of initial vocational educationā. First year students have the opportunity to receive scholarships from 10 to 20 lats per month and the second, third and fourth year students may receive from 20 to 50 lats per month respectively. The possibility to receive the European Social Fund scholarship is open until 31 August 2015.
In order to increase the prestige of the vocational education, demonstrate vocational education in action and promote the competitiveness of the vocation education, vocational skills contests for students of vocational education institutions are organised in cooperation with industry associations and vocational organisations, and participation of Latvian youth is ensured at the international EuroSkills contest. Vocational skills contests test the knowledge and skills of vocational education students, provide exchange of experience for vocational education teachers and promote interaction with professional bodies and employers.
At the moment the concept approved by the government on 16 September 2009 is being successfully implemented ā the attractiveness of vocational education and the quality of education in collaboration with social partners are facilitated, a flexible offer of vocational programmes in accordance with short-term jobs market demand is furthered, vocational programme modules are structured, and a credit points system is designed to adjust the vocational qualification levels to the European vocational qualifications standards (framework). Acquisition of knowledge and skills through non-formal education and training is also facilitated and recognised. The correspondence of vocational education with the labour market included in the concept is implemented through a co-operation between state institutions, assessment of the education quality (licensing, accreditation), and by granting vocational qualifications. Since one of the objectives of vocational education is to raise the attractiveness of vocational education by increasing the number of students who after finishing their basic education choose to continue studies at vocational education programmes, it is planned to raise the share of students who, after completing their primary education, continue studies at general secondary education or vocational education programmes to 50/50 by 2015.
āVocational education institutions network optimisation guidelines 2010-2015ā approved by the government on 6 January 2010 are being successfully implemented, ensuring further improvement of the vocational education system and its quality:
- by ensuring an optimal number of vocational education institutions and their location in the regions;
- by carrying out differentiation of vocational education institutions;
- by improving the infrastructure and modernising the material and technical equipment;
- by facilitating a more resource-efficient use of all kinds of resources.
As a result of the optimisation and differentiation of vocational education institutions, 14 vocational education competence centres will be created ā i.e., vocational education institutions that possess the necessary material base for acquiring vocational qualifications in all corresponding basic occupations of the industry, whose mission is to provide the necessary methodological support to other vocational education institutions for studies of corresponding industry occupations. These institutions will provide locations to the latest technology for youth and adults, as well as act as examination centres, including for the knowledge acquired through non-formal education. On 22 February 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the Regulation No. 148 āProcedures for granting and cancellation of the status of a professional education competence centreā, laying down the criteria for obtaining the status of a vocational education competence centre by vocational education institutions. On 1 September 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers awarded the status of a vocational education competence centre to six vocational education institutions.
Currently there is an ongoing restructuring of vocational education programme contents within the European Social Fund project āDevelopment of an industry qualifications system and raising the efficiency and quality of vocational educationā. The aim of the project is to provide high quality and efficient vocational education in accordance with the development needs of the economic sectors. The project is planned to review the content of vocational education and apply it to the results and needs of studies of economic sectors.
- Creation and operation of 12 sectoral expert councils (tripartite representation ā employers, employees, and the government) to ensure close cooperation with employers;
- Development of sectoral research and industry qualifications framework by defining basic occupations, related occupations and specialisations;
- Development or improvement of vocational standards for basic industry occupations and setting basic vocational qualifications requirements for related occupations and specialisations;
- Development or improvement of vocational education programmes for initial vocational education and vocational further education, using a modular approach;
- Improvement of the content and process of vocational qualifications examinations;
- Implementation of a system of recognition of the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired outside the formal education.
Sectoral research has lead to the development of sectoral descriptions and sectoral vocational qualifications frameworks with specific sectoral basic occupations, for which occupational standards will be developed. It will contain information to educators about the sector in general and the volume and qualifications of the workforce required by the sector. Restructuring of vocational curriculum in accordance with the research results began in 2012, together with sectoral expert councils, based on an industry relevant occupational qualifications framework. Vocational education programmes with a modular approach will be developed (a flexible, successive, particularly structured approach to programme development and educational process) to ensure the acquisition of vocational competencies. Modular approach is a way of structuring the educational process that is based on general study subjects, acquiring lifelong education competencies and vocational competencies for basic sectoral occupations, related sectoral occupations and specialisations. The project shall include development of 80 occupational standards (September 2012 ā April 2013). Development of educational programs may be initiated only after the design and approval of occupational standards or basic vocational qualification requirements. Overall, the project will provide for the development of 20 vocational initial education programs and 35 vocational further education programs with a modular approach. Such an approach will potentially be provided in the best way by competence centres that possess relevant technical equipment and number of students. The project also provides for the development of the qualification examinations content for up to 30 vocational qualifications.
In order to create a unified and comparable content and procedures for general and trade education quality accreditation, a project āAccreditation quality procedures for general and trade education, as well as educational institutions and centresā is being implemented in order to increase efficiency and quality, as well as an action plan for the implementation of IT technologies to increase the quality of education. This project has been approved for 2010-2013.
Structural funds aid for 2007-2013
- 25000 students will be awarded scholarships in basic vocational education programmes
- 5000 trade school teachers will undergo vocational development training in their sectors and the IT sector
- A sector qualifications system is being developed. 80 standard occupations, 20 primary trade school programs and 35 vocational programs will be developed and reformed
- 53 trade schools will be renovated, and 20 will be adapted for students with disabilities
- Classrooms at 8 prisons will be upgraded.
In 2012 a substantial reform of vocational education was performed, focusing the EU structural funds on sustainable projects: EU structural funds projects are continuing in 15 vocational education institutions within stage one of the activity project application selection round for a total amount of 22 million lats. Funding in an amount of 91 million lats was directed and focused at the second project selection round. These funds were used to fully complete a modern infrastructure, and training facilities will be provided at 11 vocational schools. Funds totalling 113 million lats have been directed at the improvement and modernisation of infrastructure of vocational education institutions. Based on the reform and concentration of the funding, Latvia will receive fully modernised and equipped, modern vocational education centres in all regions of Latvia.