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Portugal, officially known as the Portuguese Republic, is a country located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, with a total geographic area of just over 35,600 square miles. The westernmost country in Europe, Portugal shares borders with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and Spain to the north and east. Also part of Portugal’s total land area is the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira. Portugal is a highly developed country with the world’s 19th-highest quality of life and is one of the world’s most globalized and peaceful nations. The country is a member of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations among other organizations, and is a founding member of the Latin Union. Lisbon is the capital and largest city in Portugal.
As of the 2011 census Portugal had an estimated population of 10.5 million. Since the expulsion of the Moors, Moriscos and Sephardi Jews centuries ago, the population of Portugal has been very homogenous from an ethnic standpoint. Currently, native Portuguese residents account for nearly 97 percent of the total population. They are an Iberian ethnic group, whose ancestry is very akin to other Western and Southern Europeans, particularly Spaniards, with whom they share a common history, ancestry and culture. The remaining 3 percent of the population is made up of a variety of ethnicities, namely Cape Verdeans, Brazilians, Goans, Angolans and Ukrainians among other groups.
Portugal is also very homogenous both linguistically and religiously. Portuguese is the national language of the country and is used for all official purposes, including government, media (print and broadcast), commerce and education. It is also the most widely spoken language among the Portuguese people, the first language for nearly all of the population. Mirandese, which is spoken in some of the villages of the municipality Miranda do Douro, has been recognized regionally since 1999. Religiously, nearly 85 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, while approximately 2 percent adhere to other Christian denominations, mainly under the Protestant umbrella of religions. Another 9 percent of Portuguese citizens self-identify as non-believers or non-religious.
Education in Portugal
Education in Portugal is overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Science and is free and compulsory until the age of 18, when students complete the 12th grade. Education is provided both publicly and privately at all levels. There are four main stages or levels of education: pre-primary, which includes nursery school and kindergarten in that order for children under the age of 6; basic education; secondary education and higher education.
Basic education in Portugal begins at age six and spans nine years in total. This level of education is divided between three cycles (ciclos). First Cycle lasts for four years, followed by Second Cycle and Third Cycle, spanning two and three years respectively. The curriculum in First Cycle includes Portuguese language, mathematics and environment study as the main subjects, with artistic, musical, physical and verbal education added as enrichment activities. In Second Cycle other courses are added, including history and geography of Portugal, natural sciences, English, visual education (arts), technological education and religious studies. The three-year Third Cycle is designed to prepare students for secondary school, offering more advanced courses in English and at least one other foreign language (French, Spanish or German), physics, chemistry, and computer or IT classes in addition to the subjects taught during the Second Cycle.
Secondary education in Portugal spans three years (10th-12th grade). At this stage students have the option of enrolling in general education, an academic program for students who plan to pursue university or other higher education options, or the technological secondary track, a vocational program that is more work-oriented and provides real-world training for those students who plan to enter the workforce upon graduation. Successful completion of either of these two programs results in the conferment of a diploma, and in the case of those completing the technological track the diploma will specify the specific jobs for which the student is qualified.
Higher education in Portugal is provided by two main types of institutions: universities and polytechnics. It is subdivided into autonomous public universities, private universities, public or private university institutes, polytechnic institutions and higher education institutions of other types. Generally speaking, the university system is much more theoretical and research oriented, serving students who are pursuing degrees in fields such as medicine, law, economics, psychology and veterinary and natural sciences. Polytechnics, on the other hand, are more professionally oriented, with students studying fields such as engineering, technology, management, education, agriculture and the humanities.
While some sources indicate that the adult literacy rate in Portugal is as high as 99 percent, others list it at around 93 percent in terms of basic literacy, and even lower when it comes to functional literacy.