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New Zealand is a large island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, with a total land area of over 103,000 square miles.  The country consists of two large landmasses, often referred to as North and South New Zealand, and numerous smaller islands.  New Zealand is located about 900 miles east of Australia, separated from that country by the Tasman Sea, and about 600 miles south of the Pacific island nations of Fiji, Tonga and New Caledonia.  New Zealand is a rugged land, and because of its remoteness, the country, which claimed its independence from Great Britain in 1853, was one of the last regions in the world to be inhabited by humans.  The capital and largest city in New Zealand is Auckland, which is also the government seat.
 
New Zealand has a population of roughly 4.4 million, most of whom (72 percent) live in the country’s 16 main urban regions.  Of those, 53 percent live in the four largest cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton—cities that consistently rank high on international livability polls.  Nearly 68 percent of the population self-identifies as European, and another 14 percent is of Maori origin.  Other ethnic groups residing in the country include Asians (9 %), Pacific Islanders (7%) and those that merely identify as New Zealanders (11%).
 
English is the official and most widely spoken language in the country, spoken by an estimated 98 percent of the population.  It is also used for all official government business, commerce and education.  New Zealand English has a distinctive accent that is very similar to the English spoken in Australia.  Most New Zealanders, or roughly 60 percent, are Christian, and another 34 percent of the population claims no religious affiliation whatsoever.  Minority religions include Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.
 
Education in New Zealand
 
The education system in New Zealand is overseen by the national government and administered at the municipal level.  Schooling is compulsory for ten years for children between the ages of 6 and 16, and school is provided free for 13 years, including one pre-primary year called kindergarten.  The education system is divided between primary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education.
 
Primary education in New Zealand begins at age six and spans eight years, representing grades one through eight.  Children are provided instruction in reading, writing and basic arithmetic initially, subjects that are later supplemented by a broad curriculum including courses in science, social and cultural studies, English, history, geography, the arts and sport.  Students receive a promotion certificate following the successful completion of the 8th grade, which qualifies them to enroll in one of the country’s secondary schools.
 
The first two years of secondary education are, for the most part, an extension of primary school, with advanced instruction in many of the same subjects listed above.  These grades (9th and 10th) are the only two compulsory years of secondary schooling, although most students do proceed to the final two years of secondary school (11th and 12th grades), where they can choose to enroll in either an academic program that prepares them for university enrollment, or a vocational program, through which they can learn a trade.
 
Higher or tertiary education in New Zealand is provided by five types of public or government owned institutions:  universities, colleges of education (teacher training colleges), polytechnics, specialist colleges and wānanga, a type of institution that provides higher education in a Maori cultural context.
 
The adult literacy rate in New Zealand is 99 percent, a testament to their excellent education system, and nearly 15 percent of the population holds a bachelor degree or higher.

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