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Spain, or in official circles, the Kingdom of Spain, is a sovereign country located in the southwestern portion of Europe, with a total geographic area of just over 195,000 square miles, making it the 51st largest nation in the world by area. Situated on the Iberian Peninsula, the mainland of Spain is bordered to the east and south by the Mediterranean Sea, save for a small land boundary with Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory. To the north and northeast the country shares borders with France, Andorra and the Bay of Biscay, and to the west and northwest with Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. Spain is a democracy, organized in the form of a parliamentary government serving under a constitutional monarchy. A highly developed country, Spain boasts the 12th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and the world’s tenth-highest quality of life index rating. It is a member of the European Union, United Nations and NATO among other organizations, and its capital and largest city is Madrid.
As of the 2010 census, Spain had an estimated population of just over 46 million and a population density of roughly 235 inhabitants per square mile, which is lower than most other Western European countries. With the exception of Madrid and the surrounding area, the most populated areas of Spain are along the coast. Native Spaniards are by far the largest ethnic group in Spain, accounting for approximately 88 percent of the population. The remaining 12 percent is comprised of people of many different ethnicities, hailing from places such as Latin America, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Spanish, recognized in the constitution as Castilian, is the official language of Spain and is used in government, media, commerce and education. It is also the most widely spoken language in the country, spoken as a first language by nearly 90 percent of the population. The constitution also states that all other languages in Spain, including Basque, Catalan and Galician, will be recognized regionally within their respective communities. Although no longer an official state religion, Roman Catholicism is the preferred faith for over 71 percent of the Spanish population, and in public schools, students must choose courses in either religion or ethics, with Roman Catholicism being the only religion taught. Close to 3 percent of the population practices something other than Roman Catholicism, while 24 percent of the population self-identifies as either non-religious or atheist.
Education in Spain
Education in Spain is overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Education and administered at the regional level. Education is free and compulsory for 10 years, beginning at age 6 and culminating at age 16. The system of education has five basic levels: preschool education, serving children between the ages of 3 and 6; primary school, a six-year program serving students ages 6-12; secondary education, a four-year program for students 12-16; the Spanish Baccalaureate (Bachillerato) or Formacion Profesional, a two-year program for students 16-18; and tertiary or higher education.
Primary (colegio) and secondary school (instituto) are the only two compulsory levels of education under the Spanish system. Both are free for students to attend. Following the successful completion of secondary school, students are awarded a Secondary Education Certificate, which is necessary to enter the next phase of education.
The two-year post-compulsory stage of education essentially has two educational tracks from which students can choose: the Bachillerato, an academic program that helps prepare students for university admission, or the vocational track called Formacion Profesional, which helps prepare students for certain careers within the Spanish economy. Students who successfully complete the Bachillerato are eligible to sit for the University Entrance Exam, popularly called the Selectividad, which varies from region to region.
Higher education in Spain is provided by numerous universities, all of which have recently restructured their credit and degree structure as recommended by the Bologna Process—a reform act that aims to facilitate student transfer at universities throughout the European Union. Under the new system, one academic year now constitutes 60 credits in most cases, and the types of degrees available for students to pursue include a 3-year Bachelor degree, a 2-year Master’s Degree, and a 3-4 year Doctorate or PhD-level degree.