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Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Federation, is a northwestern European country, geographically divided between the world-famous Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, with a total geographic area of just over 15,900 square miles.  A landlocked federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, Switzerland shares borders with Germany in the north, France in the west, Italy in the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein in the east.  Although the Alps comprise the greater part of the country, most of the Swiss population is settled on the Plateau, which is also where the largest cities are to be found, including the two global cities of Geneva and Zurich, the largest city in the country.  The capital city and government seat of Switzerland is Bern.
 
As of the 2011 census, Switzerland had an estimated population of nearly 8 million—a population that is very linguistically and culturally diverse.  Although over 70 percent of its population is comprised of people native to Switzerland, the country, because of its location at the intersection of several European cultures and languages, is very multinational.  Switzerland has four official languages that are spoken in the various regions of the country:  German, the most widespread language spoken in the north, east and central portions of the country by 72% of the population; French, spoken in the western region by just over 20 percent of Swiss inhabitants; Italian, spoken in the south by approximately 7 percent of the people; and Romansh, a romance language spoken locally in the southeastern canton of Graubünden by about 0.5 percent of the population.  Resident foreigners and temporary workers comprise roughly 22 percent of the Swiss population, mostly hailing from other European Union countries, particularly from Italy, Germany, Serbia and Montenegro and Portugal.  Sri Lankans, most of whom are former Tamil refugees, are the largest group of Asian origin.
 
Switzerland is a secular country with no official state religion, but most of the cantons, save for Geneva and Neuchatel, do recognize official churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church, a Protestant denomination.  Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, with some 42 percent of the population adhering to the Roman Catholic faith and 35 percent being members of the various Protestant churches.  Immigration to the country has brought other religious faiths to Switzerland, including Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Islam, practiced by 1.8% and 4.2% of the population respectively.  Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, while present in the country, are all practiced by less than half of one percent of the population.
 
Education in Switzerland
 
Education in Switzerland is overseen by the Ministry of Education, but because the constitution delegates responsibility for the education system to the individual cantons, the system itself is actually quite diverse, especially in terms of the language of instruction.  Education is provided by both public and private schools, including many that use an international curriculum.  The education system is divided between three distinct levels or phases:  primary education, secondary education and higher or university education.
 
Most Swiss children begin their primary education at age 6, and depending on the canton and the school they attend, this level will span five or six years or grade levels.  The curriculum in primary school is very diverse, featuring subjects such as mathematics, science, language and literature, history, geography, physical education and the arts.  Foreign language instruction is also begun at this level, and while traditionally the primary language taught is one of the other national languages, English is now taught as a second language in a few of the cantons.
 
Following primary school, students are separated according to their academic ability, often into one of three types of secondary schools.  Those that learn more quickly are instructed in advanced classes—classes that help them prepare for the matura (academic diploma) and entrance into a university—while others receive a combination of academic and professional instruction or strictly vocational instruction and training, the latter of which helps students gain a trade of some kind that will allow them to join the workforce following graduation.
 
Switzerland is renowned for its higher education programs, including one campus in Zurich that is consistently ranked the top university in continental Europe.  In all there are 12 universities in the country, ten of which are maintained at the cantonal level and two at the national level.  The universities regulated by the cantons typically offer a range of professional and academic degrees in non-technical subjects, while those maintained at the federal level are more researched based, with a tremendous international reputation for their work in the chemical and medical fields.  There are also several universities of applied sciences and a handful of institutions that specialize in business and management.
 
Because of its excellent and reputable system of higher education, Switzerland has the world’s second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia, and the country has been home to over 110 Nobel Prize winners in its history, including the famed Albert Einstein.

Map of Switzerland

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