Definition of the target groups
For those pupils that due to different reasons may not be integrated into mainstream schools, special education schools are established. Usually these schools are specialized (school for hearing-impaired and deaf; school for weak-eyed and sightless, etc.) but may also organize classes for pupils with other kind of development problems. For pupils with heavy mental or several heavy development disabilities rehabilitation centres are established in order to teach/prepare children for life in society and for teaching them to be able to take care of themselves.
Admission requirements and choice of school
The amendments to the General Education Law which came into force on July 18, 2018, states that there are only two types of special educational institutions: special schools (public or private) and special schools- development centres (public). All children with special needs of preschool age will be educated in mainstream preschools – in general programmes or in special programmes or groups. From September 1, 2020, children and learners with learning disabilities, language disorders, physical disabilities and long-term illnesses should acquire education in mainstream settings. The amendments to the Law were introduced to foster inclusive education providing support for learners in mainstream settings.
Main admission requirements are almost the same for all pupils no matter with or without special educational needs. In the case of pupils with special educational needs, the possibility to start compulsory education later is used frequently.
There is one substantial difference as regards the procedure of admission. Children with special needs are enrolled in special education institutions and general education institutions on the basis of the statement issued by the national or municipal Pedagogical Medical Commission. The Commission determines children's mental development disabilities and special needs, necessity for special education, and type of special education programme, provides guidance to parents, teachers and education institutions on pedagogical medical issues and delivers an adjustment on the necessity on the appropriate special education programme.
Starting with 2023, to improve the quality and accessibility of special education, municipalities in Latvia invest 14.7 million euros from the European Union funding, promoting the learning performance of students, and creating a learning environment that contributes to the well-being of students and teachers. With the support of available EU funds, local governments will be able to improve modern, comfortable, and accessible infrastructure and learning environment in thirty special education institutions.
One of the basic principles of the Latvian education system is to provide equal opportunities to receive a good education for every child, regardless of the family's financial situation and educational institution locations. It is planned that when implementing investment projects, municipalities will help to improve the network of special educational institutions. In case of implementation of the projects, no more than one although strong and modernized special education institution will be established in local governments (except for the city of Rīga). Thus, it is planned that seven special education institutions and six places of implementation of special education programmes will be reorganized. Changes in the network of special education institutions are implemented to ensure quality education and provide full support for children with special needs.
Age levels and grouping of pupils
Special education is offered at pre-school education, integrated primary and lower secondary education and upper-secondary education level. It may last longer than ordinary schooling in mainstream schools, and depends individually on special needs and health conditions of pupils.
Pupils are grouped taking into account the diagnosis. If someone has several defects, the main (harder) one is determinant. It is possible that children of different age belong to the same class.
Teaching work is organized in the form of lesson. Maximum learning load per week and the length of a lesson is determined in the General Education Law. The number of teaching periods per day/week is the same as for pupils in mainstream schools as well as the way the school year and holidays are structured.
The length of lessons for pupils with severe mental development disabilities or several severe development problems in classes 1 to 9 lasts 30 minutes. The length of lessons in the 1st class is 30 minutes; in classes 2 to 12 it is 40 minutes for pupils with other health and development impairments.
Special education programmes like integrated primary and lower-secondary education programs are designed for 9 years. Pupils with vision impairment, learning disabilities or severe language disabilities acquire integrated primary and lower-secondary education program in 10 years, but those with hearing impairment in 11 years.
Starting with 2005/06, revised recommended (model) programmes for special integrated primary and lower-secondary education and model programmes for special integrated primary and lower-secondary education for ethnic minorities are applied in special integrated primary and lower-secondary education. Just as all educational programmes, each special education programme have to be licensed. before it can be implemented in the school. The programme have to be accredited within two years after licensing.
Schools follow the sample plan of curricula issued by the Ministry of Education and Science, developed in cooperation with specialists and practitioners of various fields. Each category of special education has model plans of curricula. Curricula include the same compulsory subjects (including computer training) as in mainstream schools and specific rehabilitation and correction lessons for each category of special needs education. Taking into account the interests of parents and children interests as well as the capacity of the school, schools may offer optional subjects that are not included in curricula.
Education of persons with special needs due to mental retardation takes place in three levels:
- Level A and B for children with special needs due to minor mental development disabilities;
- Level C - for children with special needs due to medium or severe mental development disabilities, or several serious development problems.
In 2007, 10 subject recommended programmes in integrated primary and lower-secondary education for pupils with mild mental development disabilities were completed in following subjects: Latvian language, Literature, Mathematics, Life Skills, Geography, History of Latvia and World History, Crafts and Technologies, Natural Sciences. Recommendations for the content of subjects - Native language, Arithmetics, Rhythmic, Music - for pupils with medium or severe mental development disabilities were also approved.
Teaching methods and materials
Teachers of special schools should use methods creating positive emotions and positive environment, and motivate children for learning. Children's age, condition of physical and mental health, ability to make contacts, interests and behaviour are taken into account when choosing methods.
Systematic work during classes and while doing homework assists to the development of children's intellectual abilities, extension of their outlook, systematization of their knowledge and improvement of the scope of their feelings and willpower. Special attention is paid to implementation of principles of "developing teaching" to achieve comprehensive development of children, acquisition of knowledge by emphasizing their practical application possibilities as well as development of different skills.
The teacher and pupil cooperation elements are included and may be implemented in every teaching method: organization and implementation, stimulation and motivation, control and processing of learning activities. Application of verbal, visual and practical methods has a positive effect upon children with special needs. If applied purposefully and skillfully, all teaching methods stimulate pupils" learning activities.
As regards teaching materials, there is a list of recommended books issued by the Ministry of Education and Science each year where materials for special education are also included. The Ministry also publishes teaching materials in relief print as well as in large font size etc. These materials are distributed free of charge. However, there is a lack of special teaching materials for pupils with heavy mental retardation and several other diagnoses.
Starting with the 2018, the learning of sign language in educational institutions is officially regulated. According to the amendment of the Education Law, education should be provided in the sign language in schools that implement special education programs for students with hearing impairments.
The National Centre for Education develops methodological support materials for teachers who work with pupils with special education needs.
Progression of pupils
Progression of pupils with special needs does not differ from progression of other pupils. Teachers carry out continuous assessment of pupils' progress using a 10-scale grading system and non-grade system. Achievements of pupils with mental development disabilities are assessed without marks in classes 1-3. Parents of pupils receive a short oral and written assessment report on pupils' progress, describing development of knowledge, skills, attitude towards learning and class participation. Achievements in the 4th class are also assessed without marks, except in Mathematics, Native Language and Latvian (for minority pupils). 10-scale grading system is used to assess pupils in classes 5-9.
Pupils in classes of level C (children with special needs due to heavy mental retardation or several serious development problems) do not receive marks, but a short, written assessment on their general development, communication and self-expression skills and abilities.
In assessing achievements, abilities and health condition of the pupil are taken into account.
Pupils who have mastered education programmes, receive a certificate on pamatizglītība (integrated primary and lower-secondary) education or a certificate on upper-secondary education and an achievement sheet.
Students with special educational needs who follow special education programmes and acquire the National Standard of Basic (integrated primary and lower-secondary) Education are assessed like pupils who follow general education programmes. Pupils following special education programmes are entitled to receive exam accommodations.
Pupils with certain diseases and mental development disabilities may not take national examinations in order to get general pamatizglītība (integrated primary and lower-secondary) education certificate. The list of diseases is centrally determined. A nine grade student in a special on general education institution following a special education programme for pupils with mental development disabilities, may be exempt from taking state examinations by the school head after the recommendation of the School's Pedagogical Council.