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Sierra Leone, officially known as the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa, with a total geographic area of nearly 28,000 square miles.  The country is bordered to the north and east by guinea, to the southeast by Liberia and to the west and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean.  Once a colony of the British beginning in 1808, Sierra Leone claimed its independence on April 27, 1961, and today the country is a constitutional representative democratic republic, whereby the President is both the head of state and the head of government.  The country is divided into four primary geographic regions: the Northern Province, Eastern Province, Southern Province and the Western Area; which are further subdivided into fourteen districts.  The capital and largest city in Sierra Leone is Freetown.
 
As of the last census taken in 2010, Sierra Leone had an estimated population of 5.2 million and a population growth rate of 2.2 percent.  The country is home to approximately 16 ethnic groups, each with its own native language.  The Temne people, who reside primarily in the Northern Province, represent the largest ethnic group in the country, accounting for nearly 35 percent of the population.  They are also the most influential, both politically and culturally.  They are followed by the Mende people who inhabit the Southern Province, accounting for about 31 percent of the overall population.
 
English is the official language of Sierra Leone and is used in government administration, the media and educational instruction.  Krio, however, a language derived from English and several of the indigenous languages native to the country, is the most widely spoken language among the people, spoken as a first (and usually only) language by approximately 97 percent of the population.  From a religious standpoint, Islam is the predominant faith, practiced by approximately 60 percent of the population.  Christianity is the largest religious minority, adhered to by between 20 to 30 percent of inhabitants, and various animist beliefs are practiced by 5-10 percent of Sierra Leoneans.
 
Education in Sierra Leone
 
Education in Sierra Leone is overseen and regulated by the Ministry of Education and is free and compulsory for nine years (6 years of primary school and 3 years of junior secondary education).  However, a shortage of schools, qualified teachers and resources has made the implementation of this mandate nearly impossible.  The Sierra Leone Civil War, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, devastated the country, resulting in the destruction of over 1,200 primary schools.  As a result, as recently as 2001 close to 70 percent of school-age children were out of school.  Today the situation has improved to some degree, but there is tremendous room for improvement and progress. 
 
Primary education in Sierra Leone spans six years and serves children between the ages of 6 and 12.  The curriculum at this level includes subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic initially, with courses in science, language, history, geography, social studies, religious studies and physical education gradually added as children progress through each grade.
 
Secondary education also spans six years and is divided equally between two distinct levels:  junior secondary school and upper secondary schools, also called high schools.  In junior secondary school the curriculum remains very broad, featuring many of the subjects mentioned above, while in upper secondary school students can choose between university preparatory studies and vocational education, the latter providing them with a marketable trade.
 
Higher education in Sierra Leone is provided by three universities, where students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in a limited number of academic and professional disciplines, as well as teacher training colleges and religious seminaries located in various parts of the country.
 
The low quality of education in Sierra Leone is evident in the country’s adult literacy rate, which some experts believe is as low as 33 percent.

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