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By Caribbean standards, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas—known simply as “the Bahamas” informally—is a large country with a total land area of approximately 5000 square miles and a permanent population, as of the latest census, of 354,000.   The country consists of 29 islands, of which only a few are inhabited; 661 cays; and over 2,300 islets, and is located in the same island chain as Cuba and Hispaniola.  The capital and largest city in the Bahamas by population is Nassau, a city that is located on the island of New Providence and serves as the hub of the country’s most profitable industry, tourism, and is the center of Bahamian education and commerce.
 
In terms of ethnicity, the Bahamian population is not very ethnically diverse.  People of African descent represent the majority in the Bahamas at 85 percent, followed by those of European (12 percent), Asian and Mestizo (2%) descent, and other groups that comprise a mere 1% of the total population.  The official language of the Bahamas is English and is spoken by the overwhelming majority of its residents, albeit of a Bahamian dialect.  Christianity is the religion of choice for most Bahamian residents, divided in order of popularity between the denominations of Baptist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Church of God, Methodist and other Christian affiliations.  A very small percentage of the population (2%) practices a non-Christian religion, including Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Rastafarians.  The adult literacy rate on the islands is an impressive 98.3 percent.
 
The Bahamas is a very proud and culturally rich country, beginning with its people who are extremely hard workers and very family oriented.  In the less developed outer islands handicrafts are made to sell to tourists, including baskets and hats made from palm fronds that the Bahamian people call “straw.”  Regattas are important social events on the many of the islands, and are accompanied by onshore festivals featuring traditional Bahamian music, dance and cuisine.  In some settlements, annual festivals associated with a certain type of traditional crop or food are held, including the “Pineapple Fest” in Gregory Town and the Eleuthra or “Crab Fest” on Andros.  The country of the Bahamas boasts a warm and tropical climate that remains fairly constant throughout each season and serves as part of the allure for vacationers around the world, especially Americans.  From its gorgeous white sandy beaches to its romantic tropical sunsets to its comprehensive all-inclusive hotels and resorts, the Bahamas has become an ideal holiday locale for individuals and families.
 
Education in the Bahamas
 
Education in the Bahamas is required for children between the ages of five and sixteen and is divided between primary and secondary education.  Sadly, there are a minority of public schools that lack some of the most crucial educational resources, including textbooks and qualified instructors, and in these areas school overcrowding is the norm.  As of the latest census, combined school attendance at primary and secondary school was 92 percent.
 
In total, there are 210 primary and secondary schools in the Bahamas, 158 of which are funded and administered by the Bahamian government.  The remaining 52 schools are privately operated by various organizations on the island, particularly churches.  Primary school instruction comprises the first seven years of education in the Bahamas, with a diverse curriculum of mathematics, science, language, geography, physical education and the humanities.  Secondary schooling accounts for the final four years, of which only the first two years are compulsory.  In those final two years students have the option of studying a purely academic track, usually in preparation for university admission, or a vocational track, through which they can be trained in a certain career field.
 
Prior to 1974, higher education was virtually non-existent in the Bahamas, but after several reforms that recognized the need for educated and qualified people to fill a variety of career positions important to the Bahamian economy, many new opportunities now exist.  University students can now pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in a number of academic fields, some of which are offered in a long distance, online format through major universities in the United States and Europe.  Post-secondary vocational training is also available, including schools that specialize in technical training, nursing, dental assisting and the very popular hospitality services program, providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to obtain positions in the booming tourism industry.

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