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Belarus, or in official circles, the Republic of Belarus, is a large landlocked country in Eastern Europe, with just over 80,000 square miles of total land area, of which nearly half is heavily forested.  The country is bordered by Russia to the northeast, Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest, Poland to the west and Ukraine to the south.  Formerly a constituent member of the Soviet Union, Belarus, like many other countries in the old Soviet Bloc, became independent in 1991.  The capital and largest city in Belarus is Minsk, and today, the country’s two strongest economic sectors are agriculture and manufacturing.
 
Belarus has a population of nearly 9.5 million, of which over 70 percent reside in the country’s urban areas.  Ethnically, 81 percent of the population is made up of native Belarusians, with large minorities of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians also residing in the country.  Two official languages—Belarusian and Russian—are recognized by the Belarus government, and it is estimated that over 50 percent of the adult population can speak both of these fairly fluently.  While the new constitution of Belarus does not indicate an official religion, the majority of the population practices Russian Orthodox Christianity.  Roman Catholicism is adhered to by a small minority of the population, and is the second most popular religion in the country.
 
Belarus has a rich culture and its people have made major contributions in areas such as literature, music, and the performance arts.  The traditional Belarusian dress originates from the Kievan Rus period, and today includes clothes made mostly from wool to help protect people from the often frigid winter temperatures in the region. In Belarusian cuisine, vegetables, meat (particularly pork), and breads serve as the staple foods around which many hearty dishes are created. Foods are typically slow-cooked or stewed all day in preparation for dinner, the largest meal at the end of the day. 
 
Education in Belarus
 
The Ministry of Education in Belarus is responsible for overseeing the entire education system, although the individual municipalities with each region of the country also have input in terms of policy, curriculum and personnel.  Education is divided between the primary and secondary school levels and is compulsory for all students between the ages of 6 and 15.  Families can either choose to send their children to public school, also known as a “state school,” or a private school, run by various organizations, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church.
 
While preschool is offered by many private organizations in the country, the majority of Belarusian children will begin school at age 6 at the primary level, and continue this education through age 13.  The first four years of instruction, grades 1-4, are focused on the acquisition of basic skills, including reading, writing, simple mathematics, social studies and health, while in the final three years they will be introduced to more advanced academic subjects in preparation to enter secondary school.
 
Secondary education in Belarus is divided into three categories of schools:  general education, vocational education, and specialty schools.  General education secondary schools offer students comprehensive instruction in various academic subjects, with the ultimate goal being university admission.  Vocational schools focus on various careers that are important to the Belarusian economy and provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need to enter the workforce upon graduation.  Finally, specialty secondary schools are designed to provide the republic with qualified staff in a number of advanced or technical career fields.  The curriculum at these establishments, which include technical schools, art colleges and linguistic institutions, is updated annually to ensure the programs are addressing the demands and challenges of the current labor market.
 
Higher education in Belarus consists of 57 institutions of higher learning, of which 43 are state owned (28 universities, 1 institute, 6 higher colleges) and 14 are private.  At the country’s universities, academic degrees are offered at the undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels in a wide array of fields.  Higher colleges and institutes tend to focus on specific educational niches in which high quality staff is regularly produced for various sectors of the Belarusian economy.  Students pursuing degrees in fields such as medicine, dentistry and engineering will typically complete their undergraduate and graduate work at the university level, followed by several additional years at an adjunct facility of the university that specializes in that particular field.

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