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Sweden, or in official circles, the Kingdom of Sweden, is a large country in northern Europe, the largest country in the European Union with a total geographic area of 173,860 square miles.  A Nordic country situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula, Sweden shares land borders with Norway and Finland, and is connected to Denmark by way of a bridge-tunnel across the Oresund.  Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy and the country’s economy is very highly developed.  It ranked fourth in the 2010 Democracy index published by the Economist and ninth in the United Nation’s Human Development Index.  The country’s capital city is Stockholm, which is also the largest city.
 
According to the latest census data released in 2011, Sweden has an estimated population of 9.4 million and a population density of merely 54 inhabitants per square mile, one of the lowest in Europe.  Most people live in the southern half of the country, and 85 percent of the population is concentrated in urban areas.  Sweden is very homogenous from an ethnic standpoint, with native Swedes accounting for over 90 percent of the population.  Minority groups living in the country include Finns, representing 3 percent of the population, other Nordic groups (1%) and those of other ethnicities, mostly from other European counties (5%). 
 
Swedish is the lone official language in Sweden, a North Germanic language that is related and very similar to Danish and Norwegian.  It is used for all official purposes in the country, including education, business, government and media, and is the most widely spoken language among the Swedish people.  Finnish is recognized as a minority language, as are the languages of Meankieli, Sami, Romani and Yiddish.  The majority of Sweden’s population is Christian, namely the Lutheran denomination of Protestantism served by the Lutheran Church of Sweden.  Minority religions in the country include Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
 
Education in Sweden
 
Education in Sweden is overseen and regulated by the national government and schooling is free at all levels through secondary school and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16.  The education system is divided between four levels:  kindergarten, comprehensive school, upper secondary school and higher education.
 
Children aged 1-5 are guaranteed a spot in public kindergarten, which is free, although not compulsory.  Most children in Sweden attend at least one year of kindergarten prior to entering the comprehensive school level. There they learn important skills such as pre-reading, basic count and writing, along with socialization and cooperative skills as they become accustomed to learning in a structured environment.
 
Comprehensive school in Sweden spans 9 years (grades 1-9) and serves children between the ages of 6 and 16.  This level is further subdivided into a primary and junior secondary stage, the latter of which helps prepare students for upper secondary school.  The curriculum in Sweden’s comprehensive schools includes mathematics, Swedish language and literature, foreign language (usually English), science (natural and physical), history, geography, social studies, art, music and physical education. In the Program for International Assessment (PISA), Swedish 9th grade students (15-year-olds) scored close to the OECD average for students of that age.
 
Upper secondary school in Sweden, which is called gymnasium, spans three years (grades 10-12) and serves students between the ages of 16 and 18.  This level is not compulsory, but it is well-attended, with over 90 percent of Swedish students moving on to this stage following their comprehensive education.  The primary reason why so many students take part at this level is that successful completion of this three-year program can lead to a job qualification and/or entrance eligibility for a Swedish university.
 
Higher education in Sweden is provided by a number of universities and colleges.  At these institutions, students can pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide array of academic and professional fields, along with specialty degrees in fields such as medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, law and veterinary medicine. 
 
As of 2010, nearly 35 percent of the Swedish population had earned a degree at the university level, making the country one of the most educated in the world.

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