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Panama, officially known as the Republic of Panama, is a country located in the southernmost part of Central America, with a total geographic area of just over 29,000 square miles. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, the country shares land borders with Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the southwest, and to its north and south are the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean respectively. With the aid and some much-needed financial backing from the United States, Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, which allowed the Panama Canal to be built by the United States Army Corp of Engineers. Today Panama reaps a significant portion of its overall GDP from Canal revenues, making its economy the third-largest and fastest growing in Central America. The capital and largest city in Panama is Panama City.
As of the last census, Panama had a permanent population of roughly 3.4 million. The ethnic breakdown of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook, is Mestizo, a combination of the Amerindian and white race, mostly European, at 70 percent, followed by Amerindian and mixed race, mostly West Indian (14%), white only (10%) and Amerindian only (6%). The Amerindian population is comprised of seven indigenous ethnic groups: the Embera, Wounaan, Ngobe, Bugle, Kuna, Naso and Bribi peoples. The country’s culture and customs are predominantly Caribbean and European (mostly Spanish).
Spanish is the official and most predominant language in Panama, the first language for approximately 93 percent of the population. It is also the language used for official purposes in the country, including government, courts, media, commerce and education. In addition to Spanish, many people in Panama also speak one of the indigenous languages, such as Ngabere. English and French are taught most commonly in Panamanian schools as a second language. From a religious standpoint, although the Panamanian government does not collect statistics in this area, various sources indicate that 75% to 85% of the population practices Roman Catholicism, while another 15%-25% of the population practices Evangelical Christianity.
Education in Panama
Education in Panama is compulsory for ten years—the first seven years of primary school and the three years that make up middle school. Close to half a million children are enrolled in grades one through six in Panama, an enrollment rate of 95 percent. This numbers falls off sharply, however, in the six secondary grades, with just 250,000 students participating for an enrollment rate of 60 percent.
The education system in Panama is divided between four distinct levels: primary education, middle school, high school and tertiary or university education. Primary education features a broad curriculum, with courses in subjects such as mathematics, science, Spanish, English or French, history, geography, social studies and physical education. Secondary education is divided between middle school and high school and serves students between the ages of 13 and 18. Many of the same subjects mentioned above are taught at both of these two levels, only more advanced, with added coursework in subjects such as Biology, Chemistry and Physics. High school education includes a combination of academic studies and vocational education, the latter provided for the more career-minded students who wish to join the workforce upon graduation.
Higher education in Panama is provided by 88 institutions, serving over 95,000 students, as of the 2009 census.