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Germany, or in official circles, the Federal Republic of Germany, is a federal parliamentary republic located in Western Europe.  The country is comprised of 16 states, which together comprise a total geographic area of 138,000 square miles.  The climate in Germany is primarily temperate, with warm (rarely hot) summers and cold winters.  The country has the largest economy of any country in the European Union, and the fourth largest economy by GDP in the world.  Residents of Germany enjoy a very high standard of living, and the country has been home to a number of renowned scientists and inventors, whose work has helped to shape the present and future of Germany and the world.
 
With 82 million inhabitants, Germany is the most populous nation in the European Union and the 15th largest country in the world.  Ethnic German nationals account for 91 percent of the population, while minority groups of Russians, French, Italians, English and Americans account for the remainder.  German is the official language of the country and is used for all commerce and government business, including being the primary language of instruction in German schools.  Christianity is by far the most prevalent religious faith and is practiced by over 70% of the population.  Christians are divided between Roman Catholics and those who practice one of the Protestant-based denominations, while Islam, which accounts for 4% of the population, is the largest religious minority.
 
Education in Germany
 
The responsibility for education in Germany lies primarily with the individual federal states.  Education is free and compulsory for nine years, for children between the ages of 6 and 15.  The German system of education is divided into 4 levels:  kindergarten, for children 5 years of age; primary schools, spanning 4 years and typically for students aged 6-10; secondary school, spanning 6 or 7 years for students aged 11 to 17 or 18; and higher education.
 
The primary-school stage directly follows kindergarten, the latter of which consists of a one-year program that allows children to become accustomed to the school setting.  Once primary school commences, basic reading, writing and arithmetic are the primary areas of focus, subjects that will gradually be supplemented by science, social studies and language arts in the latter half of primary school and into secondary school.
 
Secondary education in Germany is very unique, in that it offers all students a tailored program depending on their academic level.  Based on performance, testing and academic aptitude, students leaving primary school in Germany are assigned to one of three schools:  Gymnasium, the most advanced type of school, which serves to prepare students for university admission; Realschule, for students who demonstrate intermediate ability; and the Hauptschule, a secondary school that focuses almost exclusively on vocational education.
 
University admission in Germany depends on a number of factors, including the continuous assessment of students throughout secondary school and scores on their final examinations.  According to global rankings, six of the top 100 universities in the world are located in Germany, each offering students a wide range of academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate level.
 
Germany has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent—one of the best in the world, which includes all German residents over the age fifteen.

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