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By Latin American standards, Costa Rica is a fairly small country, measuring just some 20,000 square miles in total land area.  A bicoastal country located in the heart of Central America, it is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the southeast by Panama and to the west and east by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea respectively.  In the Spanish language, Costa Rica means “rich coast,” which is a very suitable name for a country whose prime economic activity revolves around exportation through one of its many port cities.
 
Costa Rica drafted and approved its first and only constitution in 1949 (at which time it permanently abolished its army), making it one of the world’s oldest constitutional democracies.  Lauded by environmentalists and world leaders alike for its environmental sustainability and carbon reduction practices, Costa Rica ranks first on the world’s Happy Planet index and is one of the greenest countries in the world.  In addition, when compared to other Latin America countries, Costa Rica consistently ranks high on the Human Development Index.
 
As of the 2011 census, Costa Rica had a permanent population of just over 4.3 million.  Those who self-identify as White and Castizo account for 82 percent of the population, with the remainder identifying themselves as Mestizo (15%), Black, or Afro-Caribbean (2%), Native American (0.8%), Chinese (0.2%) and other (1%).  The Whites, or those of European ancestry, are primarily of Spanish descent, with significant numbers of Italians, Germans, English, Dutch, French, Irish, Portuguese, Lebanese and Polish, as well as a large Jewish community.  The official and most widely spoken language in the country is Spanish, although the Afro-Caribbean faction commonly speaks a form of Creole English.  Roman Catholicism is the official and most adhered to religious denomination in Costa Rica, accounting for over 70 percent of the population, but various Protestant faiths, representing 11% of all believers, are also practiced.
 
Education in Costa Rica
 
Education in Costa Rica is overseen by the national government and consists of three levels:  primary school, secondary school and higher education.  Primary education is mandatory and serves children between the ages of 6 and 14 in grades one through eight.  In grades 1 and 2 children receive instruction in basic reading, writing and some arithmetic, which eventually evolves into a broad curriculum of language, mathematics, science, history, geography, music, art and physical education in grades 3 through 8.  Secondary schools, most of which consists of just ninth, tenth and eleventh grade, are also free for students to attend, and although not compulsory, this level of education is very well-attended when compared to other Latin America countries.  Students who successfully complete the 11th grade are awarded a Bachillerate, or diploma, and are eligible to enroll in one of the country’s universities.
 
Higher education in Costa Rica consists of both public and private universities, with the public schools much more highly regarded than their private counterparts.  Public education is highly valued in the country and heavily subsidized at the national level, as education is seen as the ideal, if not the only path towards social mobility and national progress.  Higher education is so popular in the country, in fact, that recently many private universities and colleges have consolidated to make additional room to accommodate the great student demand.
 
Costa Rica has a literacy rate of nearly 95 percent—one of the highest in all of Latin America.

Map of Costa Rica

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