On a morning when we read that faced with cuts of around 25% in the hospital service Latvia’s Health Minister Ivars Eglitis has resigned rather than carry out such controversial “reforms” in the health service he is charged with administering, Latvian American blogger Juris KaÅ¾a asks us: is Latvia committing Futuricide?
We also need to remember here that Latvia is a country facing serious health problems. Male life expectancy – as I keep pointing out – is only 65. And as I noted at the weekend, cuts in child benefit and care programmes are hardly likely to help with the deteriorating fertility situation. Now Juris KaÅ¾a draws our attention to the likely longer term impacts on the education system. Meanwhile John Lipsky, First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund continues to insist that all meaures should include components which minimize the impact on vulnerable groups. But hasn’t the whole Latvian population just become a potential “vulnerable groups”. Shouldn’t the EU be sending money, not to pay off bad debts acquired by the banking system, but to ensure the future health, fertility and educational level of the population. Only if these questions are addressed will there ever be any hope of Latvia being able to pay back all this money that is being thrown at them.
I am personally not feeling the Latvian budget cuts, yet, because I work in the private sector, am healthy and completed my formal education many years ago. But … then….. I am thinking that my then 14-year old will have to go back to school on September 1 (his birthday is August 31), and the teaching profession in this country will have had its salaries slashed by 50 %, getting paid a reduced minimum wage and will face another likely 20 % or more cut just as the school year warms up and the government has to prepare its budget for 2010. I think the school may be empty on opening day.
To be fair, there are probably too many teachers for too few pupils in Latvia, and also too many small schools. What this would mean in a rational world is to make a skills/effectiveness assessment of all teachers and early-retire, train/upgrade or gently dismiss those who cannot be better utilized. It would mean having a nation-wide school bus network to bring pupils to magnet schools in almost any weather, also upgrading rural roads in the medium term. It would mean implementing online teaching to make the best of the best teachers… etc. etc.
Almost none of this is being done in Latvia. Instead, the government is creating an irresistable disincentive to remaining in any teaching job. Any young, able-bodied, English-skilled teacher would be a fool not to emigrate or, alternatively, to find any work that pays more than the sinking minimum wage. And that is very likely to happen if the economies of Western Europe pick up, as they will, ahead of Latvia. Education is the basis for the competitiveness of any modern society, or any society, for that matter. We don’t see too many remnants of societies that, say, didn’t teach using the plow or the bronze axe from one generation to the next.
Back in 15 000 BC, the tribe that cut back the piece of prime mammoth steak fed to the wise man who taught spear-throwing to the young didn’t eat mammoth steak in the next generation. It was back to roots and berries and mushrooms, and when they had to save on paying the mushroom teaching medicine man with the best of crop berries — well, the story about you can eat all mushrooms but some are eaten only once played out. The tribe that scrimped and saved on education, in effect, killed itself in its own future, committing futuricide. Latvia, whatever its intentions, is effectively committing futuricide rather than rationally reforming its educational system. Instead, it simply won’t have one, nor much of a future.