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Liechtenstein, or in official circles, the Principality of Liechtenstein, is a tiny and doubly landlocked country in Central Europe. The total geographic area of the country is a mere 62 square miles, and it is bordered to the west and south by Switzerland and to the east by Austria. When adjusted by purchasing power parity, Liechtenstein boasts the highest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world per person and the world’s lowest external debt. The country also has the second lowest unemployment rate in the world (1.5%), after Monaco. The capital of Liechtenstein is Vaduz and its largest city is Schaan.
Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe, after Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino, and the smallest, yet richest German-speaking country in the world. Liechtenstein has an estimated population of 35,000, of which roughly one-third are foreign-born citizens, primarily German-speaking people from neighboring countries that include Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There are also small minority groups of Turks and Italians residing in the country. Foreign-born people in Liechtenstein account for nearly two-thirds of the country’s workforce, working chiefly in the country’s financial sector, Liechtenstein’s largest industry.
Of the roughly 67 percent of native-born residents in Liechtenstein, most speak the language Alemannic colloquially in informal situations, a language that is really nothing more than a local dialect of the German language. German is the official language of the country and is used for all official dealings in the government sector, as well as for commerce, education and public communications. The majority of Liechtenstein’s population, or roughly 88 percent, are Christian, of whom approximately 78 percent adhere to the Roman Catholic faith. Most of the remainder practices one of the many Protestant denominations, with smaller religious minority groups practicing Judaism and Islam.
Education in Liechtenstein
The education system in Liechtenstein is under the supervision of the national government and is based on Roman Catholic principles. The system itself is divided into three stages: primary school, secondary school and higher education. Prior to 1974, education was compulsory for eight years in Liechtenstein, but following a series of national education reforms, only five years are now compulsory—the years that comprise a student’s primary education, beginning at age 7 and culminating at age 12.
The many primary schools in Liechtenstein feature a broad curriculum, beginning with basic reading, writing and arithmetic. In the third year, a number of other subjects are added, including natural science, language arts and literature, religious studies (primarily Catholic-based), history, geography, art, music and physical education. Students who successfully complete the five primary grades are awarded a certificate and can proceed to the secondary level, which most students in Liechtenstein do, despite the fact that is non-compulsory.
Students in secondary school can choose between three educational tracks: Oberschule, a five to six year program focusing strictly on vocational education; Gymnasium, an eight year academic or university preparatory program for students who intend to study at the university level following graduation; and Realschule, a program that combines both vocational training and academic instruction. Students who opt to enroll in either the gymnasium or realschule must choose between two major concentrations: Classics and Humanities or Economics and Mathematics.
While no universities exist in Liechtenstein, qualified students are eligible to enroll at universities in neighboring countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, paying the resident tuition rather than the higher fees normally charged to international students. Post-secondary institutions within Liechtenstein include an evening technical-vocational school and a music school.