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Northern Mariana Islands

Official Country Name: Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Region: Oceania
Population: 71,912
Language(s): English, Chamorro, Carolinian
Literacy Rate: 97%

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a U.S. territory that is a 300-mile archipelago comprised of 14 islands. Although the U.S. Congress approved a covenant to establish a commonwealth in 1976, it did not become a territory until 1986. Unlike the 12 outlying territories of the United States (Guam, Virgin Islands, etc.), the people of CNMI adopted a constitution for its government functions. Federal funds to CNMI are administered by the U.S. Department of Interiors, Office of Insular Affairs. CNMI is divided into four municipalities: Northern Mariana Island, Rota, Saipan, and Tinian.

The population, as of July 2000, was 71,912 people with 24 percent being under the age of 14. About 28,000 inhabitants are alien workers due mostly to an increase in the tourism and manufacturing (clothing) industries. The resident population is made up mostly of Chamorro, Carolinians, and Micronesians. The three main languages spoken are English, Chamorro, and Carolinian. Some 86 percent of the inhabitants speaks a language other than English at home.

The CNMI educational system is similar to that of the U.S. public school system. Accreditation started in 1987 and is through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Education is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 18.

In early 2001 the public school system of CNMI had 15 facilities with plans to build two more. Of these, 11 served the primary level. The school year runs from August to June with class hours from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in elementary school and 8:15 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. for high school. Teachers are required to have certification. There are also 15 private schools offering education in the primary and secondary levels. In 1995 the pupil-teacher ratio was nearly 21:1.

Numerous programs are offered by the public school system, such as the provision of childcare for 190 families (380 children) whose parents are in school; bilingual education; and Head Start for children under six years of age. The country uses the Stanford Achievement Test 9 (SAT9) as their form of student assessment.

The Commonwealth has one postsecondary institution, Northern Mariana College, that offers programs such as associate of arts or science; adult, vocational, and continuing education; and professional development. For further studies students go to the University of Guam or the University of Hawaii.

CNMI faces three main issues to resolve: a 14 percent unemployment rate, an immigration problem, and reports of industrial worker abuse. A report from the U.S. Congress in 1998 estimates that there are at least 10,000 illegal aliens in the Commonwealth. Additionally, in 1999 several American clothing makers agreed to pay some $1.25 million as a settlement on behalf of more than 50,000 workers forced to work in undesirable conditions. Part of this settlement fund goes to an education campaign to create awareness for better work conditions.

—Juanita Villena-Alvarez and Victoria Villena

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