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The Syrian Arab Republic, commonly known as Syria, is an Arab country in the Middle East region of Western Asia, with a total geographic area of just over 71,400 square miles.  The sovereign nation is bordered by Israel to the southwest, Jordan to the south, Iraq to the east, Turkey to the north, and Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.  Syria, which gained its independence from colonial France in April of 1946 and from the United Arab Republic in September of 1961, has recently undergone major political and social upheaval, as the government has faced massive protests as part of the Arab Spring.  The country has now been temporarily suspended from the Arab League and the government has faced worldwide criticism for its crackdown on protesters; crackdowns that have led to hundreds of civilian casualties to date. Syria’s capital and largest city is Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  It was formerly the government seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.
 
According to a July, 2012 estimate, Syria has a population of roughly 22.5 million—a population that is very ethnically homogenous, with Syrian Arabs accounting for approximately 90 percent of the population.  Major ethnic minorities in the country include Kurds, comprising 9 percent of the population, as well as Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmens and Circassians, who together make up the remaining 1 percent.
 
Arabic is the lone official language of Syria.  It is used for all official purposes in the country, including government administration, commerce, education and media.  It is also the most widely spoken language among the Syrian people—a type of Syrian Arabic that is spoken as a first language by over 90 percent of the population.  Kurdish is also commonly spoken in informal situations in regions where that ethnic group is prevalent.  Islam is the predominant religion in Syria, practiced by approximately 86 percent of the population, and of those, 74 percent are Sunni Muslims, while 12 percent adhere to the Shia branch of the religion, including the Alawite, Twelvers and Ismailis form of Shia Islam.  Another 10 percent of the population practices Christianity, particularly the Antiochian and Armenian Orthodox and Greek Catholic denominations, while 3 percent self identify as Druze.
 
Education in the Syrian Arab Republic
 
Education in the Syrian Arab Republic is under the supervision and direction of the national government.  The system is based on the old French system of education, and public schooling is free and compulsory for 9 years, beginning at age 6 and culminating at age 15.  Schools in Syria are divided into four levels:  Basic Education I, Basic Education II, Secondary Education, and higher or university education.
 
The first level of schooling, Basic Education I, begins at age 6 and spans four years (grades 1-4).  At this level, subjects such as reading and writing education are stressed, along with some basic arithmetic and other elementary subjects.  In the second level, however, known as Basic Education II, the curriculum becomes much broader.  Basic Education II spans five years (grades 5-9) and is the last compulsory stage of education.  Subjects taught at this level include mathematics, Arabic language and literature, foreign language (usually English), natural and physical sciences, cultural and religious studies (Islamic studies), history, geography, music, art and physical education. 
 
Following the ninth grade, all Syrian students who plan to attend secondary school must take a national exam administered by the government.  Based on the score on this exam, students will be enrolled in either the three-year general secondary school, which features a university preparatory curriculum that is largely academic; or the three-year technical secondary school, where the main focus is technical and vocational education and training.  Those who graduate from the technical track of secondary education will gain certification in a trade that will allow them to pursue employment following graduation, while those graduating from the general secondary school are eligible to enroll at one of the country’s many universities.
 
Higher education in Syria is provided by 5 state universities and 11 private institutions of higher learning.  Most universities in Syria still follow the old French model of higher education, in which the first stage of education spans 4-6 years depending on the field.  Students who complete this stage are awarded a “license” and are eligible to pursue the 1-2 year DEA or DESS, which is equivalent to a Master’s Degree.  The third and final stage of education in the Syrian university system is the doctoral phase, a 3-5 year program depending on the type of PhD degree being sought.

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