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Russia, also known as the Russian Federation, is a large transcontinental country in Eurasia, the largest in the world by land area with over 6.5 million square miles of total geographic area. Moving from northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland via the Kaliningrad Oblast, and it also borders Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. Russia also shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska by the Bering Strait. The country, which extends across all of Northern Europe and over 40 percent of Europe, has nine different time zones and a range of environments and landforms. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia has been a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal republics, and its capital, government seat and largest city is Moscow.
As of the last census in 2011, Russia had an estimated population of 143 million, making it the eighth-largest country in the world by area. Russia is a fairly homogenous country, but although ethnic Russians account for approximately 80 percent of the population, the country is also home to several sizeable minorities. All together there are more than 160 distinct ethnic groups and indigenous people inhabiting the country, the largest being the Tatars (3.8%), Ukrainians (2.0%), Bashkir (1.2%), Chuvash (1.1%), Chechen (0.9%), Armenians (0.8%) and others (10.4%).
There are over 100 languages spoken throughout the various regions of the country, and while Russian is the sole official language, the Constitution gives the various individual republics the right to make their native language co-official. Russian is used for all official purposes within the country (government, education, commerce, media) and is spoken colloquially by approximately 142.6 million of the country’s inhabitants. Other languages include Tatar (5.3 million speakers) and Ukrainian (1.8 million), among others. The Russian Orthodox Church, which was the state religion prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, is still the largest religious body in the country. Other popular faiths include Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. Russia, however, is not near as religious as many other developed nations, with some sources reporting that the number of non-believers residing in the country may be as high as 40 percent.
Education in Russia
Education in Russia is overseen by the national Ministry of Education and Science, while regional authorities regulate education in their districts following the framework of federal education laws. The government of Russia spends nearly 4 percent of its annual budget on public or state-run education, which is free and compulsory in secondary school, and in most cases, first-tertiary (university-level) studies. Russia’s system of education is divided between preschool or kindergarten education for students ages 3-6; secondary education, an eleven year program for students between the ages of 7 and 18; and tertiary or university education.
Preschool education in Russia, while not compulsory, serves a vital function, preparing children for the next level of education. At this level the focus is on cooperation, structure and basic skills, including pre-reading and writing, basic count, art and music. Over 70 percent of Russian children take at least one year of preschool education prior to beginning the next level of education.
In 2007, Russia switched from a ten-year compulsory education to an 11-year program, beginning at age six or seven and culminating at age seventeen or eighteen. Secondary education is divided between three distinct levels, elementary school (grades 1-4), middle school (grades 5-9) and senior school (grades 10-11). In the elementary stage the initial focus of instruction is on basic skills, including reading, writing and arithmetic. By grade 3 and continuing through grade 9, the final year of middle school, the curriculum becomes much broader, with subjects such as mathematics, science, technology, Russian language and literature, foreign language, social studies, geography, Russian and World history, physical education and the arts. In the final two years of their compulsory education—the senior level—students can either continue their academic program in preparation for university enrollment, or opt instead to enroll in a vocational program, where they receive education and training in a variety of career fields and trades.
According to the United Nations in a 2005 UNESCO report, more than half of the Russian adult population has attained a tertiary or university-level education, nearly twice the average of the OECD. Nearly 10 million students are enrolled in university-level programs each year, including military and police institutions, as well as post-graduate studies.
The adult literacy rate in Russia is reflective of the country’s excellent system of education: 99.4 percent, one of the best in the world.