Until the mid-1990s, two different schooling systems – Russian and Latvian – existed in Latvia, each with its own education programme. When the new language - related legislation came into force in 2000 and the ability to speak Latvian became an integral part of life in both the public and private sectors, it was necessary to create an education system capable of providing equal opportunities in the labour and education markets for graduates from both Latvian schools and from schools implementing national minority education programmes. This involved achieving that up to 60% of classes are taught in the Latvian language, while up to 40% of classes are available in the national minority language or bilingually.
The Law on Education was adopted in 1998. The working group charged with drafting the Law included international experts, directors of national minority schools, teachers, and experts from the Ministry of Education and Science, who based their decisions on experience gained from national minority education programmes implemented in several other European countries.
The Law on Education provides a solid foundation for the national education system. The Law ensures that national minority education programmes include both the content necessary for taking forward ethnic cultural heritage and learning the Latvian language, which enable society integration on the basis of Latvian as the official language.
The reform of education contents in schools implementing national minority programmes was introduced gradually, starting from 1995. In primary schools, from the school year 1995/96 onwards, two subjects had to be taught in Latvian. In 1998, four programme models of national minority education were elaborated, which determined the proportion of subjects taught in Latvian, bilingually and/or in a national minority language. Each school could choose one or several models, or to elaborate their own education programme, i.e., the fifth model; the choosing and implementation of it was carried out gradually – until 2002. In 2006/2007, all schools which had opted for a minority education programme had introduced the models from grades 1 to 9.
In secondary schools – which is not a compulsory stage in education – transition to national minority education programmes was phased in: as from the school year 1995/1996, three subjects were to be taught in the official language. As from the school year 2004/2005, in grades 10 to 12 of state and municipal national minority education institutions, the language ratio was as follows: 60% of educational content was taught in Latvian and 40% – in the language of a national minority.
As from 2007, national minority education institutions received grade 12 state exam materials in Latvian, but the students themselves could choose to complete the exam in either Latvian or in a national minority language.
One of the courses of action outlined in the Guidelines for the Development of Education in Latvia for 2014-2020 is to promote the development of a multilingual personality both through learning foreign languages, refining one's native language skills, and acquisition of the official language. Ethnic culture and language learning play a major role in a student's personal development and acquiring general education: this has also been highlighted in the guidelines as a course to be pursued when building on achievements.