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Lithuania, also known officially as the Republic Of Lithuania, is a mid-size country in Central Europe, and with a total geographic area of just over 25,000 square miles it is the largest of the three Baltic States. Located along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is bordered by Sweden and Denmark to the west, Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the southwest. The capital and largest city in the county is Vilnius.
Lithuania has a total permanent population estimated at 3.2 million—a population that is very homogenous both ethnically and linguistically. According to the latest census data, approximately 80 percent of the population is ethnic Lithuanian. There are, however, visible minority groups in certain parts of the country. The largest groups include ethnic Poles, who account for roughly 7 percent of Lithuania’s population and are concentrated in the south; Russians (5.5%), located mainly in the southwest, and Belarusians (1.5%), grouped sparsely in the east.
The lone official language in Lithuania is Lithuanian. It is spoken commonly by an overwhelming majority of the population, and is used in all official capacities, including government affairs, public communications (both written and oral), commerce and education. Lithuanian is one of only two living languages (together with Latvian) in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. Approximately 80 percent of the Lithuanian people adhere to the Roman Catholic religion, and most are very active in the church. Roman Catholicism has been the majority religious denomination since the end of the 14th century, the time period in which Lithuania was Christianized, with some Catholic priests actually leading the resistance against the Communist regime. Other religions practiced in the country include Orthodox, both modern and ancient (4.9%); Evangelical Lutheranism (0.6%), Reformed Church (0.2%), Jehovah’s Witness (0.1%) and the Sunni branch of Islam (0.1%).
Education in Lithuania
Education in Lithuania is overseen by the Ministry of Education and Science, a national body that proposes policies, goals and formulates the school curriculum. County administrators, municipal administrators and school founders (administrators of all non-governmental schools, including those run by religious organizations) are responsible for implementing these policies at every level. Education in Lithuania is compulsory for ten years, beginning at age 6 and culminating at age 16 and public education is free to all students, including those at public institutions of higher learning. The education system in Lithuania is divided between four distinct levels: primary education, lower secondary education, upper secondary education and higher or tertiary education.
Education is highly valued in Lithuania, and heavily subsidized by the government, which spends over 25% of the national budget on educational programs, materials and salaries. The strong focus on education is not only evident in the country’s adult literacy rate (100% for all citizens over 15), but on the percentage of people possessing a post-secondary education. Nearly 31 percent of the adult population has completed a university degree, while over 60 percent has completed both upper secondary school and a non-university post-secondary program, usually a vocational curriculum leading to advanced certification in one of the many careers important to the Lithuanian economy. Lithuania has twice as many people with higher education than the rest of the countries in the European Union, and is by far the most educated nation of the three Baltic States. Even more impressive is the fact that 90 percent of the Lithuanian population speaks at least one foreign language, and over half of Lithuania’s adults are fluent in two or more foreign languages.
Higher education in Lithuania is provided by 15 public universities, 6 private institutions of higher learning, 16 public colleges and 11 private colleges, all offering at least undergraduate degree programs in a variety of academic disciplines. Most institutions, including all of the Lithuanian universities, also offer graduate and post-graduate degrees, and some have specialized schools dedicated to instruction and training in advanced fields such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, engineering, veterinary medicine and engineering.
In recent years, Lithuania, like the other Baltic countries, has experienced a “brain drain,” a phenomena in which many highly educated adults are now leaving the country to seek advanced employment opportunities commensurate with their educational attainment and expertise.