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Iceland, officially known as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic European island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean on what is called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland has a total geographic land area of nearly 40,000 square miles, and most of its population lives in the southwestern region of the country, which is where Iceland’s capital and largest city Reykjavik is located. Iceland is one of only a few countries that are both geologically and volcanically active, and its interior consists primarily of plateaus that are characterized by sand fields, mountains and glaciers. Generally considered a perpetually frigid country, Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a surprisingly temperate climate, despite its high latitude just beyond the Arctic Circle.
Iceland has a total permanent population of roughly 320,000 and is very ethnically homogenous. Over 93 percent of the population is ethnic Icelandic, with the remainder of the population hailing primarily from Nordic Scandinavian nations, particularly Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Constitution of Iceland guarantees freedom of religion to all of its citizens, although the Church of Iceland, a Lutheran congregation, is considered the official state church, with nearly 81 percent of the population as members. Religious minorities in the country include Roman Catholics and members of the various Protestant faiths, and an even smaller percentage of people have no religious or spiritual affiliation whatsoever. Icelandic, a North Germanic language derived from Old Norse, is the national language of the country—a language spoken by the overwhelming majority of Iceland residents and used for all official matters of the state, including business, education and public communications. English is the second most popular language on the island, spoken as a first language by 5 percent of the population and as a second language by nearly half of all Icelanders.
Education in Iceland
Education in Iceland is overseen by the National Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, and is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16. The education system is divided between four distinct levels: Playschool, primary education, lower secondary education and upper secondary education.
Playschool in Iceland is similar to preschool and kindergarten in other Western countries. This level, while not compulsory, is well-attended and serves the important function of preparing students to transition into the primary education stage.
Primary education (6 Years), for students aged 6-12, and lower secondary school (3 years), for students 13-16, are the only two compulsory levels of education in Iceland. In these two stages students receive instruction across a broad academic curriculum that includes Icelandic, mathematics, arts and crafts, modern languages, social and religious studies, physical education, natural science, technology, home economics and life skills.
Upper secondary education offers students a number of choices, and despite being non-compulsory, over 90 percent of Icelandic students attend this level. Students can choose to study in grammar schools, a four-year university preparatory program culminating with a matriculation examination; industrial vocational schools, which train students in a variety of industrial trades; comprehensive schools, offering a combination of vocational and general academic education; and specialized vocational schools, which offer programs of study for certain specialized careers important to the Icelandic economy.
As of the 2011 census, the adult literacy rate in Iceland was 99.4 percent.