Evrika private school, Latvia: Comprehensive approach
Evrika is a private school accredited by the Ministry of Education in Latvia. The school was founded in Riga, Latvia’s capital city, in 1993 by the social foundation Parents for Children (Vecaki berniem). The school’s educational programme adheres to the standards set by the Ministry of Education and the Centre for Curriculum Development and Examinations (Izglitibas satura un eksaminacijas centrs). Currently, it has 230 pupils, and the language of instruction is Russian. Since the tuition fees are relatively high at around LVL 160 (approximately €230) per month, usually only children from affluent families attend the school.
The school’s staff currently consists of 67 teachers, five of whom have PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degrees and eight of whom have MSc (master of science degrees); 16 of the teachers are of pre-retirement or retirement age.
All teachers are hired on a competitive basis, according to evaluation criteria based on principles of the system of functional literacy in education, originally developed by the Russian education theorist Nikolaj Mihajlovich Verzilin in 1977. This system evaluates visual, verbal and practical methods in the teaching techniques of each candidate, rather than considering their age or formal level of educational attainment.
There is no trade union representation in the school, even though the teachers’ union is one of the strongest in Latvia. As a result, no collective bargaining takes place; however, the president of the foundation accounts each month for all expenditure made in relation to teachers and members of the foundation.
Good practice today
The school is owned by the foundation, which is solely composed of parents of the children attending the school. Thanks to the foundation’s transparent accounting system, the members are aware of all the school’s activities and have the power to decide on issues such as staff salaries, payment of premiums to employees and significant acquisitions of equipment. The school’s evaluation system is considered a competitive advantage and is at the disposal of the foundation’s members. Hence, they have the power to make decisions regarding the employment or dismissal of employees, including the school principal and the president of the foundation. The system also allows for the fair remuneration of all teachers according to the principles adopted, thus preventing discrimination by age, sex and degree of formal education; this measure also permits older professionals to be employed.
Currently, few people are attracted to the teaching profession in Latvia, despite the fact that the state funds the BSc course for the teaching qualification. The lack of interest in the profession is attributed to the generally low teaching salaries, of around LVL 130 (approximately €185) per week, along with the fact that teaching can be a demanding profession. According to Valerij Buhvalov, Head of Studies and Director of Human Resources (HR) at Evrika, ‘The University [of Latvia], although it is the main institution preparing personnel for this profession, currently provides them only with good knowledge of the subject they are supposed to teach, but not with methods of guiding the educational process itself. Hence, young teachers are not prepared for actual work in the schools’. In other words, the graduates lack practical experience in teaching. As Valerij Buhvalov outlines: ‘There is not a lack of teachers in the labour market; there is a lack of qualifications, and those currently working in schools are almost irreplaceable.’
In its efforts to attract the best employees to Evrika, the school management is often forced to rely primarily on older teachers, most of whom passed through the educational system during the Soviet era, when subjects such as computer literacy, sociology and psychology were not included in the curriculum. Even though just 16 out of the 67 employees are of pre-retirement or retirement age, almost two-thirds of the workforce are 45 years or older: therefore, the issue of ageing is likely to become of even greater concern in the coming years.
In order to attract suitable employees, the school implements a favourable wage policy. Teachers’ salaries are higher than those of teachers with the same workload in state schools. Moreover, the employee’s wage depends upon their performance in the school’s evaluation system, in which older employees usually outperform their younger colleagues. In addition, all employees are granted small bonuses on their birthdays of LVL 10–20 (€15–€30), and an amount equal to their age on special anniversary birthdays. In contrast to other private schools in Latvia, teachers in Evrika are paid their full salary during maternity and paternity leave, sick leave and holidays.
In relation to further education, all teachers in Evrika are encouraged to participate in training programmes, which are fully financed by the foundation. An important aspect of this initiative includes re-training or the acquisition of modern literacy skills, such as computer literacy and English language skills. This broadens the teachers’ opportunities for self-development and promotes the further development of skills and qualifications.
Another important feature of the school’s HR strategy is enabling the teachers to maintain a relatively constant schedule. It can be difficult for older people to have to change their regular habits: the school, therefore, offers older teachers a similar timetable every year, unless they request otherwise. This apparent inflexibility in the schedule actually benefits such older workers.
Development of the case study
Because of its favourable wage policy, since its establishment the school has rarely experienced problems in hiring teachers. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether, and indeed doubtful that, this situation will endure in the longer term. The adoption of a business strategy as part of the school’s HR policy (quite a common approach in the field of private education), has led both to heavy demands upon employees and to some difficulties in filling vacancies with younger teachers. If this strategy is continued, it will lead to an ageing of the workforce: in turn, this will require specially tailored measures to discourage older, qualified and experienced teachers from retiring. Hence, the school will need to redefine its personnel strategy, either by reducing the criteria for recruitment, or by taking more active measures to prevent employees from entering retirement.
If the higher education system in Latvia is not reformed, it is likely that the standard of education will fall over the next five to seven years as there will be insufficient numbers of new teachers to meet the high standards set by the previous generation. Currently, the school and the foundation’s management actively participate in the Latvian political arena: the president of the foundation is a member of the Latvian parliament (Saeima) and Valerij Buhvalov is a member of the Jelgava city council (both are also members of education committees). However, according to these two interviewees, the current reforms underway in the Latvian educational system are not going in the right direction.
Contact: Valerij Buhvalov, email: firstname.lastname@example.org