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Macao, which can also be spelled “Macau,” is, with Hong Kong, one of the two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China.  Macao is located on the western side of the Pearl River Delta across from Hong Kong, which occupies the eastern banks, and the region borders Guangdong Province to the north and the South China Sea to the east and south.  A former colony of Portugal, Macao was the first and last European colony in China, first settled by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, and it remained a colony until it was ultimately handed over to the Chinese in December of 1999.  Today Macao’s economy is heavily dependent on the gambling and tourism industries, and while the region is responsible for its own legal system, police force, monetary system and customs and immigration policy, it depends on China for its defense and foreign affairs—a policy known as “one country, two systems.”
 
With a total geographic area of only 11 square miles and a population of over half a million, Macao is the most densely populated region in the world.  The majority of the population, or roughly 95 percent, is ethnic Chinese, while most of the remainder is either of Portuguese descent or of mixed Portuguese/Chinese heritage, an ethnic group commonly referred to as Macanese.  Nearly half of the population was born in mainland China, of whom close to 75 percent was born in Guangdong province and approximately 15 percent in Fujian.  The rest of the people are native-born Macao (42%), or hail from Hong Kong (4%), the Philippines (2%) or Portugal (0.3%).
 
Chinese, or more specifically the Cantonese dialect, and Portuguese are both considered official languages in Macao, although Chinese is most commonly spoken among the people and is used for all official matters of the state.  Chinese folk religions, borrowing elements of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, are the most commonly practiced religious faiths in Macao.  Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, is practiced by 7% and 2% of the population respectively, and 17 percent practices the traditional Mahayana variety of Buddhism.
 
Education in Macao
 
Education in Macao is overseen by the Chinese government and educational leaders within the region.  The education system is modeled exactly after that of the Chinese, and a fifteen-year free education is currently being offered to all Macao residents.  The current system includes three distinct levels:  kindergarten, primary education and secondary education.  Most of the schools, in fact all but one, provide instruction and written materials in Chinese, while the lone dissenter features Portuguese instruction.
 
Kindergarten is a three-year program that is equivalent to preschool + kindergarten in the United States and Europe.  This level serves children ages 3-5, and its main purpose is to help prepare children for primary school through pre-reading classes and by teaching children how to work and play cooperatively with one another.
 
The primary and secondary education levels in Macao each last six years, serving students between the ages of 6 and 18.  Macao schools offer a broad curriculum of mathematics, science, language arts, history, geography and cultural, religious and social studies.  Those who successfully complete the secondary level of education are awarded a diploma and are eligible to pursue higher education opportunities either within the Macao region or in China, opportunities which consist of both university-level and vocational education.
 
The adult literacy rate in Macao is 93.5 percent, but most of the illiterate population is made up of seniors aged 65 and above, individuals who did not have the same educational opportunities as students enjoy today in the region.

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