During the French colonial period, Benin produced the educational elite of French West Africa. The percentage of primary-school attendance was higher than in any other French West African territory, largely because of intense missionary activity. The educational system is patterned on that of France, but changes have been introduced to modify the elitist system and to adapt the curriculum to local needs and traditions. The most significant change has been the takeover of mission schools following legislation in 1975, by which the state made all education free, public, secular, and compulsory from ages 6 to 11. Six years of primary education are followed by six years at a general, vocational, or technical secondary school.
Adult illiteracy rates for 2000 are projected at 62.5% (47.8% for males and 76.4% for females). In 1997, primary schools enrolled 779,329 students and employed 13,957 teachers in 3,072 schools. In the general secondary schools, there were 146,135 pupils and 5,352 teachers in the same year. The pupil-teacher ratio for primary education was 53 to 1 in 1999.
The National University of Benin at Cotonou, founded in 1970, offers courses in agriculture, medicine, liberal arts, science, law, economics, and politics. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.6% of GDP.