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Greece, or in official circles, the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southern Europe, with a total geographic area of nearly 51,000 square miles.  Also considered part of Western Europe politically, the country shares borders with Albania, Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia to the north and Turkey to the east.  East of mainland Greece lies the Aegean Sea, to the west, the Ionian Sea, and to the north, the Mediterranean Sea, collectively creating the eleventh largest coastline in the world, at nearly 8,500 miles in length.  Greece is made up of approximately 1,400 islands, only 227 of which are inhabited, including the islands of Crete, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades and the Ionian Islands, among others.  Over eighty percent of Greece is comprised of mountains, the largest of which is the renowned Mount Olympus, with a height of 9,570 feet.  The capital and largest city in Greece is Athens.
 
According to census data, Greece has a total population of nearly 10.8 million, or 1.6% less than the country’s population 10 years ago.  This drop can be attributed to a decrease in the birth rate and a wave of emigration in the wake of the current economic crisis in the country, which nearly caused national bankruptcy.  Ninety-four percent of the population is made up of ethnic Greeks, with the largest minority group in the country being Albanians, comprising 4 percent of the overall total.  Greek is the official language in Greece and is used for all official business, including education.  It is also the most prevalent language, spoken as a first and only language by an overwhelming majority of the population.  The small Muslim minority residing in the Thrace region of Greece, which accounts for nearly 1 percent of the total population, consists mainly of speakers of Turkish, Bulgarian and Romani.  Although religious freedom is guaranteed to all citizens, the Greek constitution recognizes Greek Orthodox Christianity as the official religion of Greece, with an estimated 97 percent of the population who self identify as Greek Orthodox Christians.  Islam represents the largest religious minority in the country.
 
Education in Greece
 
The education system in Greece is overseen by the national government and is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15.  The system is divided between three distinct stages:  primary education, gymnasium, and upper secondary school, the latter of which is provided by two different types of institutions.
 
Beginning at age 6, Greek students begin a 6-year primary education until age 12, followed by gymnasium, a type of lower secondary or junior high school that spans three years, for students between the ages of 12 and 15.  Both primary schools and gymnasiums offer a broad academic curriculum, consisting initially of basic reading, writing and count.  Higher-level mathematics and language arts are added towards the middle of primary school, as are subjects like science, social studies, history, geography, music, art and physical education.
 
Upper secondary education in Greece is non-compulsory, but the majority of students who complete their gymnasium education do opt to attend school at this level—a level which is broken down into two types of institutions:  unified upper secondary schools and vocational-technical schools.  Unified upper secondary schools are attended primarily by students who plan to pursue their education at the university level, and feature a broad and somewhat advanced academic curriculum.  Career minded students typically opt to attend the vocational and technical schools, where they receive instruction and training in one of many career fields—training that will allow them to enter the workforce following graduation.
 
Higher education in Greece consists of universities, “highest educational institutions,” and “highest technical institutions.”  The type of institution a student is permitted to attend is contingent on his or her score on the national entrance examinations, which measure a student’s aptitude and academic ability in a wide range of intellectual and mechanical areas.

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