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Sri Lanka, known officially as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, situated off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent, with a total geographic area of roughly 25,300 square miles.  Known as “Ceylon” until 1972, Sri Lanka is surrounded on all sides by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and is located in the vicinity of India and the Maldives.  Because of this location, Sri Lanka is a strategic naval link between Western and Southeast Asia and was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road.  Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state which is governed by a semi-presidential system with its official seat of government located in Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, the nation’s capital.  The largest city in Sri Lanka is Colombo.
 
According to the latest available census data, Sri Lanka has an estimated population of 20.8 million, making it the 53rd most populated nation in the world.  From an ethnic standpoint, the Sinhalese represent the largest ethnic group in the country, accounting for approximately 74 percent of the population.  In terms of prevalence, they are followed by the Sri Lankan Tamils at 12.6 percent and the Sri Lankan Moors at 7.5%.  Tamils of Indian origin, who were brought to the island by British colonists to work as laborers, are also present in the country, among others.
 
There are two languages with official status in Sri Lanka:  Sinhalese and Tamil, while English, which is used widely in education and for scientific and commercial purposes, is considered a link language.  Portuguese and Malay Creole are also spoken by smaller groups in the country, the former by the Burgher community and the latter by the Malay.  Sri-Lanka is a multi-religious country.  Buddhism is practiced by roughly 70 percent of the population, making it the most widespread faith.  Most Buddhist practitioners practice the Theravada school of Buddhism, which was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 2nd century by Venerable Mahinda.  Although not a national religion officially, Buddhism is given special recognition in the Sri Lankan Constitution, requiring all citizens to “protect and foster Buddha Sasana.”   Hinduism is the largest religious minority in the country and is practiced widely in the northeast and central regions of Sri Lanka.
 
Education in Sri Lanka
 
Responsibility for the education system in Sri Lanka is given to four governmental ministries:  Ministry of Education, which oversees primary and secondary education; Ministry of Higher Education, responsible for universities; Ministry of Education Services, which supplies the physical educational facilities; and the Ministry of Vocational Education, which looks after the post-secondary vocational and technical colleges.  Education is free at all levels of education, including the tertiary or university level, and compulsory for nine years beginning at age six.  The educational structure is divided between five distinct levels or stages:  primary education, junior secondary school, senior secondary school, collegiate and tertiary.
 
Primary education in Sri Lanka spans five year (grades 1-5) and serves children between the ages of 6 and 11.  The curriculum at this level, much like in each level of Sri Lankan education, is very broad, with subjects that include language and literature, mathematics, science, religious, social and cultural studies, history, geography, art, music and sports.  Following primary school children may elect to sit for the National Scholarship Exam, on which an excellent score will allow them to move on to better schools at the next level. 
 
The junior secondary level, also called middle school, spans 4 years (grades 6-9) and represents the last of a child’s compulsory education.  This is followed by the optional, although well-attended, two-year senior secondary level (grades 10-11), which prepares students for the General Certificate of Education-Ordinary Level (GCE-OL).  Students who choose not to attend senior secondary school may drop out and engage in an employment apprenticeship or farming.
 
All students who plan to attend a university in Sri Lanka must first pass the GCE-OL and enroll in the next level of education: the collegiate stage (grades 12-13).  Following successful completion of these two grades students will sit for the GCE Advanced Level Examination.  A passing score on this test and the National College Entrance Examination is needed to enroll in tertiary studies at the university level.
 
Due primarily to Sri Lanka’s strong commitment to education, the country has an adult literacy rate of 92.5 percent--one of the most literate populations in the world amongst developing countries.

Map of Sri Lanka

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