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Brazil, officially known as the Federative Republic of Brazil, is a very large, in fact the largest country in South America, by land area and population.  With a total area of nearly 3.2 million square miles and a population of over 192 million, Brazil is also the 5th largest country in the world, both geographically and in terms of total population.  In addition to the Brazilian mainland, there are also a number of archipelagos that comprise part of Brazil’s territory, including Noronha, Rocas Atoll, Saint Peter and Trindale. Brazil is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east, to the north by Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname, to the northwest by French Guiana, the west by Bolivia and Peru, the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay and the south by Uruguay.  Due to its enormous size Brazil shares borders with every South American country, save for Ecuador and Chile.  The capital city of Brazil is Brasilia; however the largest and most important city in the country economically is Sao Paulo.
 
Over 83 percent of Brazil’s 192 million permanent residents live in the urbanized areas of the country, mostly the southeastern and northeastern portions of the country.  Like many countries in the Americas, Brazil experienced mass waves of European immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly southern Europeans from Portugal, Spain and Italy.  Because of this, as of the latest census nearly 50 percent of the population self identify themselves as “White,” and 43 percent as “Mixed Race,” a combination of European (mostly Portuguese) and indigenous tribal heritage.  Other minorities in the country, who account for less than 2 percent of the total population, include Blacks, Asians and Amerindians.  The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, making the country the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America.  Nearly 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, with smaller groups who adhere to Protestantism and Spiritism.
 
The core of Brazilian culture is derived from Portugal, due to its former colonial ties with the country.  This includes not only the Portuguese language and Roman Catholic religion, but also the country’s colonial architecture, cuisine and sport.  Brazilian music incorporates the sounds and styles of European, African and Amerindian forms, including the somba, choro and bossa nova forms of music.  The national sport of the country, as it is in Portugal, is football (soccer), and the Brazilian national team has been one of the most successful in the world throughout its long history, winning multiple World Cup titles and South American championships.
 
Education in Brazil
 
Education in Brazil is overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Education, an arm of the national government that formulates policy and defines the educational structure of all education programs.  Local governments are responsible for the implementation of education, following the principles established by the Ministry.
 
Education in Brazil is comprised of three distinct levels, with several grades in each.  These are Fundamental education, Middle Education and Higher Education.  Fundamental education is free for all students, and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14.  Middle education, the second level, while not mandatory, is also free, and higher education, including programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees, is free at all public universities, showing the high value the Brazilian government places on education for its people across the board.

Ensino Fundamental, or elementary school, is the only mandatory level of education in Brazil, and spans 9 years, the first of which is called “First Year,” followed by grades 1-8.  Curriculum at this level is established by the Federal Council of Education and consists of courses in Portuguese language, history, geography, science, mathematics, arts and physical education.  In grades 6-9, physical education is replaced by foreign language instruction, usually English and/or Spanish.

Ensino Médio, or secondary school, spans 3 years and is open to any student who has completed elementary school.  The curriculum in secondary school is similar to that of elementary school, only more advanced, with core classes in subjects such as Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Philosophy and Sociology, in addition to Language (Portuguese and foreign language), Geography, Mathematics and Literature.  Certain secondary schools allow students to receive professional training in the second and third years of secondary school; training that leads to career placement upon graduation.

Higher education at public universities is open to any student with a secondary school diploma, although they must first pass a very competitive entrance exam called the “vestibular” for their specific course of study.  Like in most developed countries, the structure for higher education in Brazil is divided into undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate programs, leading to Bachelor, Master’s and Doctorate degrees in a number of academic and technical fields.

Unlike many countries in South America, in which student participation in higher education is very low, the universities in Brazil are constantly forced to turn away qualified candidates.  On average, the number of candidates per vacancy at Brazilian universities is 30 or 40 to one, and in certain programs the number is as high as 150 or 200 to one.  This can, in part, be explained by the no-tuition universities, but it is also an indication of how highly education is esteemed by the Brazilian people.

Map of Brazil

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