Venezuela has made considerable progress in education in recent years. An extensive literacy campaign has been conducted by the Venezuelan business community since 1980. For the year 2000, adult illiteracy was estimated at 7.0% (males, 6.7%; females, 7.3%). Public education from kindergarten through university is free, and education is compulsory for children ages 6 through 15. Approximately 20% of the national budget is assigned to education. As of 1995, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5% of GDP.
Preprimary schools are being established throughout the country by the government. After nine years of elementary school, children undergo two to three years of secondary school, which comes in two stages: the first is designed to provide a general education in the sciences and the humanities; the second prepares students for the university and offers specialization in philosophy and literature, physical science and mathematics, or biological science. In 1997, there were 4,262,221 students enrolled in elementary schools, with 202,195 teachers. Also in 1997, secondary schools enrolled 377,984 students and employed approximately 34,000 teachers. As of 1999, 88% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 50% of those eligible attended secondary school. Technical and vocational schools provide instruction in industry and commerce, the trades, nursing, and social welfare.
There are 14 universities, both national and private, including the University of Venezuela (founded in 1725), Los Andes University (1785), Simón Bolívar University (1970), and the Open University (1977). Leading private institutions were the Andrés Bello Catholic University (1953), Santa María University (1953), and the Metropolitan University of Caracas (1970). Over 47 institutes of higher learning, colleges, and polytechnic institutes exist where students pursue at least 180 different fields or professions. As of 1998, all universities had a combined enrollment that exceeded 300,000, representing a 40% increase over the last decade.