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Italy, officially known as either the Republic of Italy or the Italian Republic, is a unitary parliamentary republic located in the south-central portion of Europe.  A fairly large country by European standards, Italy has a total geographic area of 116,347 square miles, and shares borders to the north with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia along the Alps, and to the south lies the entirety of the Italian Peninsula, Sicily and Sardinia—the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea—and many smaller islands.  San Marino and Vatican City, although they are independent states, are considered enclaves of Italy, while Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave of Switzerland.  The country has a temperate and seasonal climate, and its capital and largest city is Rome.
 
Italy has a population of roughly 60.6 million, making it the fifth-most populous country in Europe.  Ethnically, the country is very homogenous, with native Italians accounting for just over 92 percent of the population.  The largest minority groups in the country include people with Romanian, North African, Albanian, Chinese, Ukrainian and Latin American heritage.  Italian is the official language of Italy, spoken by the majority of its people and used for all official matters of the state.  It is also the primary language of instruction in the majority of Italian schools.  Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, which was once deemed the “official religion of Italy, is by far the most predominant religious faith in the country, practiced by over 91 percent of the population.  Close to 2 percent of the population practices Islam and nearly 5 percent of Italians practice no religion at all.
 
Education in Italy
 
Education in Italy is overseen and administered by the national government and is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15.  Education standards are very high in Italy, surpassing those of many other developed nations, including the European countries of Germany and the United Kingdom.  Both public and private schools exist at all levels, the latter of which are run by both for-profit and non-profit organizations, including many religious bodies, such as the Roman Catholic Church.
 
Generally, the education system in Italy is divided into three stages:  primary education, secondary education and higher education.  Primary schools, for students aged 6-11, span five years, and initially focus on basic skills, including reading, writing and fundamental arithmetic.  In the later grades and into secondary school, many more subjects are added, including mathematics, Italian language and literature, foreign languages, civics, history, geography, music, art, science and physical education.
 
Secondary education in Italy is divided between two phases:  middle school and high school.  The middle school curriculum is entirely academic, featuring many of the same subjects mentioned above, only at a higher level.  The high school stage is not mandatory under the Italian system, but the majority of students do attend.  Here they can choose to remain on an advanced academic track in preparation for university admission, or opt instead to enroll in the vocational/technical program, featuring some basic academics, with a strong and primary focus on occupational training and career preparation.  Students who complete the vocational track are awarded a certificate for their achievement and can either opt to enter the workforce upon graduation or pursue post-secondary training to further develop their skill-set.
 
Higher education in Italy is provided by colleges, universities and academies, giving students many options in terms of academics and professional programs.  Recently, Italian universities switched to a standardized credit system and three-tier degree structure consisting of a three-year Bachelor Degree, a two-year Master’s Degree, and a 3-5 Year Doctorate Degree or PhD.  Most European universities have also switched to this new structure—a structure borne from the Bologna Process that aims to streamline the credit system and facilitate student transfer between universities throughout the European Union.
 

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