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The Netherlands Antilles, also called the Dutch Antilles informally, was a small autonomous country in the Caribbean within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with a total geographic area of just under 310 square miles.  It consisted of two groups of islands in the Lesser Antilles region:  Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao (ABC islands) in the Leeward Antilles, just off the coast of Venezuela; and Saint Maarten, Saba and Saint Eustatius (SSS islands) in the Leeward Islands, just southeast of the Virgin Islands.
 
In 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles, forming a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the remainder of the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in October of 2010, resulting in a pair of constituent countries, Curacao and Saint Maarten, and the other islands joined the Netherlands as special municipalities that are officially referred to as public bodies.  Today the name “Netherlands Antilles” is used colloquially to indicate the Caribbean islands that are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Dutch Caribbean islands.
 
As of the last census the population of the Netherlands Antilles was an estimated 176,000.  Most of the people are descendants from European colonists and African slaves who were brought to the country in the 1600s through the 1800s during the colonial years.  The remainder of the population originated mostly from other Caribbean islands, as well as small groups from Latin America and East Asia.
 
The Netherlands Antilles has three official languages:  Dutch and English, which are both used when conducting official business in the government, economic and education sectors, and Papiamentu, which informally is the most widely used language in the region.  Papiamentu is a Creole language, a combination of Portuguese and West African languages with strong Dutch influences.  Christianity is the predominant religious faith in the country, particularly the various Protestant denominations which are common in Saint Eustatius and Saint Maarten, and Roman Catholicism, the preferred religion in Bonaire, Curacao and Saba.  Curacao also has a sizable Jewish community.
 
Education in the Netherlands Antilles
 
The education system in the Netherlands Antilles is overseen by the national government and is modeled after that of the Netherlands.  Education is compulsory for children for ten years, beginning at age six and culminating at age 16, and the system is divided between three distinct levels:  primary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education.
 
Primary school education in the Netherlands Antilles spans 6 years for children aged 6-12.  The curriculum at this level is very broad, beginning with basic reading, writing and arithmetic, with many other subjects (science, history, geography, the arts, etc.) added throughout each grade that help prepare students for secondary education.
 
The secondary education system is sub-divided into three tracks:  vocational, HAVO and VWO.  Vocational education is a four year program that helps prepare students for various trades, with the goal of entering the workforce upon graduation.  The HAVO program provides both vocational and academic education, preparing students to enroll in universities where professional education is the norm, and VWO, a six-year program, is purely academic and the most prestigious level of education, with instruction that helps ready students for university enrollment, particularly at research universities.
 
Higher education is offered at vocational, professional and research universities, and while there are very few physical institutions of higher learning on the islands, many students receive distance education through universities in the Netherlands and other European and North American countries.

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