Urbanization, Employment, and Education

Latvia Table of Contents

Latvia was one of the most urbanized republics of the former Soviet Union, reaching an urbanization rate of 71 percent in 1990. Subsequently, the rate of urbanization decreased and was estimated to be 69.5 percent in 1992. Part of the reason for the decline no doubt can be found in the out-migration of non-Latvians to other republics. It seems probable, as well, that a slight shift back to rural areas occurred as a result of the start-up of some 50,000 private farms.

The rapid economic changes of the early 1990s have brought about an employment reorientation by various ethnic groups. The division of labor between Latvians and non-Latvians that prevailed in 1987, the most recent year for which such data are available, offers a general indication of where the groups work. The Latvian share was above average in culture and art (74.6 percent), agriculture (69.5 percent), public education (58.8 percent), communications (56.7 percent), administration (56.4 percent), credit and state insurance (55.1 percent), and health care and social security (53.5 percent). Latvians were significantly underrepresented in heavy industry (36.3 percent), light industry (33.6 percent), machine building (31.0 percent), the chemical industry (30.1 percent), railroad transport (26.5 percent), and water transport (11.5 percent). The work categories facing the greatest threat of unemployment are those with the fewest Latvians. This may create future strains and possible confrontations between Latvians and non-Latvians if solutions are not found.

In the long run, however, higher education might be an important variable in advancement and adjustment to new economic situations. In 1989 only ninety-six out of 1,000 Latvians completed higher education, compared with 115 out of 1,000 for the entire population. The most educated were Jews, with a rate of 407 per 1,000 completing higher education, followed by Ukrainians with 163 and Russians with 143. Belorussians, Poles, and Lithuanians had a rate below that of the Latvians. One of the key variables accounting for this spread in educational achievements is rural-urban location. Jews and Russians are much more urban than Latvians or Poles. It is difficult to compete in entrance examinations after attending schools in rural areas where there are regular official interruptions in the fall for harvesting and in the spring for planting. Distances and poor transportation networks provide another obstacle to completing secondary school. Most institutions of higher learning are located in Riga. Unless one has relatives or friends there, it is difficult to find living accommodations. Student residences can cater to only a small proportion of applicants.

One of the unique aspects of the Latvian education system was the introduction during the 1960s of schools with two languages of instruction, Latvian and Russian, in which each group held classes in its own language. About a third of all schoolchildren went to these schools, and the others attended the purely Latvian or Russian schools. Extracurricular activities and parent-teacher events were expected to be held together, and almost inevitably they were conducted in Russian because of the imbalance in language knowledge. These schools did not foster interethnic friendship, as originally hoped, and they were being phased out in post-Soviet Latvia. In the 1993-94 school year, sixty-nine out of 574 such primary schools remained.

All children, from about the age of six, must complete nine years of primary schooling, which may be followed by three years of secondary education or one to six years in technical, vocational, or art schools. In the 1993-94 school year, a total of 76,619 students were enrolled in primary schools, 242,677 in secondary schools, 27,881 in vocational schools, 19,476 in special secondary institutions, and 7,211 in special schools for the physically and mentally handicapped. There were eighteen universities and other institutions of higher education, with 36,428 students. The literacy rate approached 100 percent.

One of the innovations introduced with independence was the reestablishment of schools or programs for other ethnic groups. Before the Soviet occupation in 1940, Latvia had more than 300 state-supported schools offering instruction for different ethnic groups: 144 Russian, sixty Jewish, sixteen Polish, thirteen Lithuanian, four Estonian, one Belorussian, and eighty-five with several languages of instruction. All of these except the Russian schools were closed after 1945. After 1990 various ethnic groups were offered the opportunity of again maintaining schools in their own language of instruction, and by the 1993-94 school year some 210 schools were in operation: more than 200 Russian, four Polish, one Estonian, one Lithuanian, one Ukrainian, and one Jewish. Latvia had the first Jewish secondary school in the entire Soviet Union. It should be noted that most of the non-Latvian groups had largely assimilated with the Russians, and many of their members did not speak their native tongue.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress