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Norway, officially known as the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic European country whose territory is comprised of the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island. The mainland portion of the country shares land borders to the west with Sweden, to the south with Finland and to the east with Russia, and also to the south it borders the Skagerrak Strait, which separates the country from Denmark. With over 148,000 square miles of total land area and a population of merely 5 million, it is the least-densely populated country in Europe. Norway is officially a unitary constitutional monarchy, and its capital and largest city is Oslo.
Of the roughly 4.9 to 5 million residents in Norway, most, or roughly 86 percent are native Norwegians, a North Germanic people. The Sami people, accounting for nearly 3 percent of the population, are the largest ethnic minority in the country, a group that traditionally inhabits the northern parts of Norway, Finland and Sweden, as well Russia in the northern Kola Peninsula. Other ethnic groups in the country, albeit in much smaller number, include Jews, Forest Finns and Norwegian Romani Travelers.
The official language of Norway is Norwegian, a North Germanic language that has two forms: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Both forms are recognized as official languages, in that they are both utilized in government administration, media, churches, and in the education sector. Norwegian is also the mother tongue and spoken informally by approximately 95 percent of the population. Other languages in the country that are recognized regionally include northern Sami, Lule Sami, Kven and Southern Sami, all spoken among the Sami minority in the north. From a religious standpoint, all Norwegians are registered at baptism as members of the Church of Norway, a Christian religion of the Lutheran variety. Many (80 percent as of the 2010 census) remain members of the faith, primarily because it entitles them to certain services, such as baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial rites. Roman Catholicism is the preferred faith for nearly 100,000 Norwegians and accounts for 1.6 percent of the population, the largest religious minority in the country.
Education in Norway
Education in Norway is overseen by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. Public education is free at all levels, regardless of nationality, and school is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16. The school year is comprised of two semesters, one that runs from August to December and the other from January to June. The education system is divided into four distinct levels: primary education, lower secondary school, upper secondary school and tertiary or higher education.
Primary education in Norway spans seven years (grades one through seven) and serves children between the ages of 6 and 13. In grade one the education focuses primarily on educational games, through which students learn to share and cooperate, the alphabet and pre-reading skills, and basic addition and subtraction. Following grade one the curriculum becomes much broader, with courses in mathematics, English, Norwegian, science, religion, esthetics and gymnastics, supplemented by geography, history, and social studies beginning in the fifth grade.
Secondary education is divided between two levels: lower secondary school and upper secondary school. Lower secondary education, with a curriculum similar to that in primary school, only more difficult, spans three years, or grades 8-10. Upper secondary school, which also lasts three years, is an optional level of education for students aged 16 to 18 or 19. In these schools students receive a combination of academic education, which helps prepare them for tertiary enrollment and studies, and vocational education.
Higher education in Norway is provided by a range of institutions, including seven universities, five specialized colleges, 25 university colleges and numerous private institutions. Like most of Europe, higher education in Norway now follows the structural recommendations set forth by the Bologna process, a structure that includes Bachelor (3 years), Master (2 years) and PhD (3 years) degrees, earned in that order. All students who earn a general competence certificate from an upper secondary school are eligible to apply and enroll in higher education.