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Official Country Name: Aruba
Region: Puerto Rico & Lesser
Population: 69,539
Language(s): Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish
Literacy Rate: 97%

Aruba, a 74.5 square mile island located in the southern Caribbean Sea, was first inhabited by Arawak Indians and later was discovered by a Spaniard, Alonso de Ojeda. The chain of dates documenting Aruban governmental history includes: 1499, the date of the Spanish discovery; 1636, when the Dutch took control of the island following the 80 Year War between Spain and Holland; 1805 to 1816, when the English took possession during the Napoleonic Wars; 1816, when the Dutch returned to power; 1986, when as a member of the Netherlands Antilles Federation, Aruba petitioned to automatically become a separate entity; and 1990, when Aruba requested cancellation of the agreement to become totally independent and remained a third part of the Dutch realm. Aruba is a parliamentary democracy and is autonomous in internal affairs, but the Kingdom of the Netherlands is responsible for the island's defense and foreign affairs. Oranjestad is Aruba's capital.

Linked to its Dutch heritage, Aruba's educational system is administered by the Aruban Ministry of Education and requires the high standards maintained by educational institutions in the Netherlands. In 2000, approximately 24 percent of the island's budget was designated to fund education, a designation that purportedly resulted in Aruba having one of the highest levels of education in the Caribbean. The literacy rate is 97 percent. Reflecting the island's rich ethnically-diverse history, although public school instruction is in the official Dutch language, lower grades are taught English and Spanish, and upper-grades have additional language offerings including French and German. Further, the local language, Papiamento, is being progressively introduced in the schools. Papiamento is a combination of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, English, French, African, and Arawak Indian languages.

Education became compulsory in 1999. The Compulsory Education Act requires kindergarten beginning at the age of 4; a 6-year primary education beginning at 6 years of age; and a 5-year period of secondary education beginning at age 12. At the preprimary level, there are 4 public and 19 private kindergartens. During the 1998-1999 school year, there were 2,601 kindergarten students and 98 teachers. At the primary level, there were 5 public and 28 private schools (1998-1999: 8,456 students and 397 teachers), as well as 4 special education schools with a total of 291 students and 54 teachers.

Secondary education levels include nine schools offering a four-year preparatory course to middle level professional education (1998-1999: 2,485 students and 141 teachers); and one private school offering a four-year non-university, higher professional education and a six-year preparatory course to university higher education (1998-1999: 1,628 students and 81 teachers). In addition, one school offers lower level, basic professional, technical and vocational education (1998-1999: 1,968 students and 148 teachers).

Middle level professional education includes: one public school offering a four-year middle technical education (1998-1999: 467 students and 36 teachers); one public school three-year secretarial program (337 students and 26 teachers); and two private schools—the Aruba Hotel School (121 students and 9 teachers) and the Colegio Paso Sigur, a school for human services (151 students and 29 teachers).

Institutions of higher learning include a community college and two universities, The University of Aruba (1998-1999: 214 students and 28 teachers) and The Teachers College (180 students and 25 teachers). The University includes a law school and a school of business administration. English-language education, remediation, and advance-standing admissions for degree programs in a number of fields for are provided in Aruba, the United States, and online. For example, the university offers an online two-year health profession program, and scholarship arrangements for specialized professions are available with the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America. A number of Arubans choose to attend higher education institutions in the Netherlands.

Across time, Aruba's economy has been influenced by the discovery of gold in 1824, the discovery of oil in 1924, and by a blossoming tourist industry. An ever increasing population coupled with the rapidly emerging tourist industry impacted education by making clear the need for training institutes, technical organizations, and special-purpose schools. One such special-purpose school, funded in part by the European Common Market Development Fund, is the Aruba Hotel School, which opened in August 1982. The school provides accredited Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science degrees in Hospitality Management and meets transference criteria for many institutions of higher learning in the United States and the Netherlands.

Other educational institutions include the International School of Aruba, which provides instruction in English for students pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The school follows a general academic, college preparatory, U.S. public school curriculum, and it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The institution is incorporated in Aruba and is non-profit, with about 95 percent of the 1999-2000 school year being funded by student tuition. Major contributors to the school include the Coastal Refinery of Houston, Texas, and the PTA. During the 1999-2000 school year, there were 164 students and 26 faculty members.

During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Aruba's Minister of Education and Labor, Mary Wever-Lacle, was instrumental in bringing modern technology into the island's education system, providing classroom computers and distance learning opportunities. These and other initiatives designed to enhance education by meeting the challenges of modern technology continue to reflect the high academic and practical standards of excellence required in Aruba.


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—Duffy Austin Wilks

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