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Backgrounds: Marshall Islands Geography
The Marshall Islands is comprised of 29 atolls and five major islands, which form two parallel groups -- the "Ratak" (sunrise) chain and the "Ralik"(sunset) chain. Two-thirds of the nation's population lives in Majuro and Ebeye. The outer islands are sparsely populated due to lack of employment opportunities and economic development.
The Marshallese are of Micronesian origin, which is traced to a combination of peoples who emigrated from Southeast Asia in the remote past. The matrilineal Marshallese culture revolves around a complex system of clans and lineages tied to land ownership.
Virtually all Marshallese are Christian, most of them Protestant. Other Christian denominations include Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, Salvation Army, and Jehovah's Witness. A small Bahai community also exists.
Marshallese is the official language. English is spoken by most of the adult urban population. However, both the Nitijela (parliament) and national radio use Marshallese.
The public school system provides education through grade 12, although admission to secondary school is selective. The elementary program employs a bilingual/bicultural curriculum. English is introduced in the fourth grade. There are two post-secondary institutions in the Marshall Islands -- the 2-year College of the Marshall Islands and the pre-university branch of the University of the South Pacific.
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