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Nicaragua, officially known as the Republic of Nicaragua, is a country located in Central America, the largest country in the Central American isthmus with a total geographic area of just over 50,000 square miles.  The country is bicoastal, bordering the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east, and it shares land borders with Honduras in the north and Costa Rica to the south.  Due to its position—just north of the equator—Nicaragua is a tropical country and a biodiversity hotspot, one that is biologically significant for its unique ecosystems.  Its physical geography is divided into three major regions:  the Pacific lowlands, where the two largest lakes in Central America (Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua) are located; the cooler and moister central highlands; and the Caribbean lowlands.  The capital and largest city in Nicaragua is Managua.
 
As of the last census, Nicaragua had a population of just over 5.8 million, of whom nearly 85 percent live in the country’s urban regions.  Approximately 70 percent of the population is Mestizo, a combination of indigenous Amerindian and European heritage, particularly Spanish, German, Italian and English, while the remainder of the population self-identifies as white or mostly European ethnicity (17%), Amerindian (5%) and black and other races (9%).
 
Spanish is the lone official language of Nicaragua and is used for all official purposes, including government, media, commerce and education.  It is also the most widely spoken language in the country, spoken as a first language by an overwhelming majority of the population.  Until the 19th century, a hybrid form of Nahuat-Spanish was the most common language, and today, Nicaraguan Spanish is still infused with many of the same words and syntax from the old language.  Religious freedom is guaranteed to all Nicaraguans by the constitution, but the majority of the population still practices Roman Catholicism, which was the official state religion up until 1939.  The various Protestant denominations and Mormonism make up the two largest religious minorities in the country.
 
Education in Nicaragua
 
Education in Nicaragua is under the supervision of the national government and administered by the individual states.  Education is free for all students and compulsory for eight years—the years that comprise a student’s elementary education.  The system itself is divided into three levels:  primary or elementary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education. 
 
Although primary schooling is mandatory in Nicaragua, this law is not strictly enforced and many children, particularly those living in the country’s rural areas, do not attend school.  Those that do are instructed in a variety of subjects, beginning with reading, writing and basic arithmetic, followed by courses in science, mathematics, Spanish, English, history, geography, social and cultural studies, arts and physical education.
 
The secondary education system in Nicaragua is divided into two general tracks:  academic or general education and vocational education.  The general education track features a purely academic program, with courses and instruction that help prepare students for university admission.  Vocational education, on the other hand, offers a very basic general education, combined with vocational training in one of the many careers important to the Nicaraguan economy.
 
Due to the country’s poverty, the education system in Nicaragua faces many challenges, including run-down facilities, less than qualified teachers and low enrollment rates, but it is showing signs of improvement.  Prior to the 1980s, for example, when Nicaragua launched a full scale literacy campaign, the adult literacy rate was a dismal 51 percent.  This rose to 77 percent by the end of that decade, and today over 85 percent of the population is literate.

Map of Nicaragua

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