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Saudi Arabia, officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a large country in Western Asia, the largest of that region with a total geographic area of approximately 870,000 square miles.  The second-largest country in the Arab world, after Algeria, and occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is bordered to the north by Jordan and Iraq, to the northeast by Kuwait and Qatar, to the east by Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, to the southeast by Oman and to the south by Yemen.  The Red Sea and the Persian Gulf also border the country to the west and east respectively.  The capital and largest city in Saudi Arabia is Riyadh.
 
As of the last census taken in 2010, Saudi Arabia had an estimated population of 25.7 million.  Saudi nationals, numbering about 16 million, are the largest single ethnic group in the country.  In addition to the native residents, nearly 9 million people are registered as foreign expatriates, hailing from places that include India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Turkey, and there an estimated 2 million people who are living in the country illegally.
 
Modern Standard Arabic is the official language in Saudi Arabia and used in government, business, education and media.  Arabic is also the most widely spoken language by the Saudi Arabian people, with three main regional variants:  Hejazi Arabic (6million speakers), Nejdi Arabic (8 million speakers) and Persian Gulf Arabic (1.5 million speakers).  Over 97 percent of the Saudi population practices Islam, of whom 85-90 percent practices the Sunni branch and 10-15 percent the Shia branch of the religion.
 
Education in Saudi Arabia
 
Education in Saudi Arabia is free to children at all levels.  The system of education is divided between five distinct levels or stages: elementary education, spanning six years for students between the ages of 6 and 12; intermediate education, lasting three years for students between the ages of 13-15; secondary education, also spanning three years for students 16-18; and higher education.
 
At all levels of education in Saudi Arabia the curriculum is in large part dedicated to Islamic studies.  During secondary school, students can opt to continue with their religious education or choose instead to enter a technical-vocational program, where they receive instruction and training in career fields important to the Saudi Arabian economy.
 
Even in higher education, which is provided by the country’s universities, the focus on Islam is still present.  As a result, many Saudi graduates lack the education and technical skills needed to adequately perform in the private sector.  A further criticism of the Saudi Arabian school system is that it continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward all “unbelievers,” which for Saudi leaders includes Christians, Jews, Hindi, Sufis, Shiites and even Sunni Muslims who do not follow the Wahhali doctrine.
 
Girls are permitted to attend school at all levels of the Saudi Arabian education system, but far fewer girls attend school than boys.  This discrepancy is reflected in the country’s adult literacy rate, which exceeds 85 percent for males and only 70 percent for females.

Map of Saudi Arabia

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