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Suriname, also known officially as the Republic of Suriname, is a relatively small country in northern South America, the smallest sovereign state on the continent with a total geographic area of 64,000 square miles. The country shares borders with France’s French Guiana in the east, Guyana in the west, Brazil to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Formerly a colony of the British and later the Dutch, Suriname was once known as Dutch Guiana until the country achieved its independence from the Netherlands in the winter of 1975. The capital and largest city in Suriname is Paramaribo.
According to 2012 estimates, Suriname has a current population of just over 560,000. The population is made up of people from a number of different ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Hindustani, descendants of contract workers who came from India in the 1800s. They account for 37% of the population. Other groups residing in Suriname include the Surinamese Creoles, mixed descendants of West African Slaves and Europeans (mostly Dutch) at 31 percent; Javanese, descendants of contract workers from the former Dutch Indies on the island of Java, Indonesia (15%), Surinamese Maroons, descendants of escaped West African slaves (10%) and Amerindians, the original habitants of the country who account for 3.7 percent of the population. There are also smaller communities of Chinese, Europeans (Dutch, Portuguese, etc.), Lebanese, Jews and Brazilians.
Dutch is the lone official language of Suriname; the language used in government, commerce, media and education. It is also the most widely spoken language in the country, spoken as a first language by over 60 percent of the population and as a second language by most of the reminder. Within the Creole population, Sranan Tongo is the language used most commonly in informal situations, often interchanged with Dutch depending on the formality of the setting. Christianity is the predominant religious faith in Suriname, particularly Roman Catholicism and the various Protestant religions. Hinduism is practiced by the majority of the Indian population, followed by Islam, the religion of choice for approximately 13 percent of the Surinamese people.
Education in Suriname
Education in Suriname is overseen and regulated by the national government and schooling is free through secondary school and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 12. In total, the education system prior to the university level is comprised of 13 years or grades: primary education, spanning six years (grades 1-6); middle school, spanning four years (grades 7-10); and high school, lasting three additional years (grades 11-13).
Primary school in Suriname is the only compulsory level of education, beginning at age 6 and culminating at approximately age 12. The curriculum at this level is very broad, beginning with basic instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. These courses are gradually supplemented by science, mathematics, history, geography, language and literature, foreign language, social studies, civics, art, music and physical education. The net enrollment rate at the primary school level is 94 percent, which is relatively high for this particular region of the world.
Following elementary school, all students must take a national exam to determine the type of middle school they will attend. Those who score well will often enter the “secondary modern school,” or MULO, where the quality of education and the educational standards are much higher than that of the “school of lower standards,” or LBGO—the type of school that serves the reminder of the population. At the end of middle school, students who intend to pursue a high school education must choose between Track A, the science track and Track B, the business track. Track A, which is mostly academic, is typically the choice for students who plan to pursue a university degree following high school, while Track B is reserved for the more career-minded student who intends to either enter the workforce upon graduation or attend a post-secondary vocational institution.
Higher education, which is somewhat limited in Suriname, is provided by only a handful of universities. Students at these institutions can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in most major academic areas, including medicine, pharmacy and law. All instruction at Surinamese universities is in Dutch—a disadvantage for the non-Dutch speaking minority.
As of the last census in 2010, the adult literacy rate in Suriname was approximately 88.5 percent, a number which was even a bit higher for those aged 18-24, at roughly 90 percent.