Egils Levits
Valsts prezidenta Egila Levita runa “Ekselences balvas” pasniegšanas ceremonijā

Good afternoon, dear teachers, participants, Madam Minister, honourable Prorector, ladies and gentlemen,

The excellence award you, dear teachers, are presented with today is a recognition of your teaching prowess and dedication. Your work has been evaluated on several levels and you have been ‘selected’, confirmed as the most innovative and excellent masters of your craft. So, congratulations on that.

This award is a product of fruitful collaboration between Latvian business owners, educational establishments, University of Latvia and the whole society of Latvia. I believe that where there is a will Latvians will find a way to work together successfully. That is, however, not always a case but this award is, indeed, a great example of various institutions, people and professionals coming together to produce good, and in this case, I should even say excellent results.

Excellence stems from one’s attitude towards work and fellow humans, commitment to achieving the best possible result. That is why we believe that the best teachers are those who are truly committed to helping young people evolve into mature personalities with their own concept of the world.

Mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology belong to core curriculum of any education system. These subjects shape the thinking, logic, reasoning ability, worldviews of young citizens and young people, contributing to the diversity and complexity of concept representation.

Ability to think rationally has become essential in today’s world, and it will be even more important in future, to those who are in school today. And it is not because we need well-educated future generation to take up one of the exact science jobs. It is rather because our state and quality of democratic system depends on their rational thinking.

Sustainable democracy depends on educated population. People who think logically and rationally. People who, as they say, are capable of ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’. People with critical thinking, analytical mind and ability to carefully consider all merits and also all threats. People who can weigh all promises, proposals and decisions wisely. That is what the majority of our population should be capable of. Only then our democracy will function and develop safely and soundly.

Advent of technology, greater mobility and globalisation have made the world a lot more complex than it were, let us say, 20 years ago or more. Young people sitting in your classrooms are under a lot more pressure than you were at their age.

Latvian youngsters have already shown their excellence at international olympiads. No doubt, that is to a large extent the victory they share with their teachers. Looking at how successful they are, one has to wonder if our education is indeed failing as some claim. Anyhow, our education system is capable of producing youngsters who are able to compete at the highest level, and that, dear teachers, means that you and your colleagues have done great job in training our young generation. As we switch over to new learning model, the skills-based learning, we should try our best to transfer also the good things we have built.

Policy-makers responsible for the current national education and science ‘policy turn’ have decided to focus on the so-called STEM fields, an approach cantered around four disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Among all approaches this one, with four fields, is being considered crucial for the development and future of Latvia.

However, the ultimate goal of education system is a versatile personality. This goal must not be lost. Societies are driven by ideas and people. At least that is what we have witnessed until now, before artificial intelligence takes over. Therefore, we need to make sure there is balance between science, engineering and art, social sciences. There is, for example, an approach called STEAM where ‘A’ stands for art in English. Nowadays, versatile personalities possess both the rational thinking skills and artistic mind in the broadest sense of the word. And versatile personalities should, once again, dominant in our society.

Truly successful teachers are able to see each pupil’s talent. Personalised learning is what every teacher should offer, but we also need a system that recognises and supports special talent in special areas. That is where excellence begins.

Latvia suffers from unforgivably low prestige of teaching profession among general public. That is something we need to rectify fast. There are all sorts of reasons why that is so, but my opinion is that we have to make sure that the prestige of teaching profession and the interest of youngsters to learn this very ancient and highly-respected craft is sufficient to have enough teachers in future. Restoring teachers’ prestige should be one of the national education policy priorities.

Success of each pupil, of course, depends on his or her abilities and parents. However, without good and excellent teachers ‘many mountains will remain unconquered’.

So, thank you for your effort and your work. I wish you lots of energy and inspiration in your future work. Thank you!