Bahrain introduced a free public education system to the Gulf region in 1919. The government aims to provide free educational opportunities for all children. Education was only recently made compulsory. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.7% of GDP.
For the year 2000, adult illiteracy rates were estimated at 12.4% (males, 9.0%; females, 17.3%). Bahrain has the highest female literacy rate in the Arabian Gulf. As of 1999, the female share of primary enrollment was estimated at 48.7%. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken. School education is in three stages: primary lasts for six years, intermediate for three years, and secondary—general, industrial, or commercial—for three years. Primary and secondary curricula includes a nine-year course in Religious Study. Nearly 100% of primary-school-age children attend school, while 85% attend secondary school. In 1997 primary schools enrolled 72,876 students. Also in 1997 secondary schools enrolled 57,184 students, taught by approximately 3,200 teachers.
Bahrain's principal university is the University of Bahrain, established in 1986 after a merger between the University College and Gulf Polytechnic. It is comprised of five colleges and an English language center: colleges of arts, sciences, engineering, education, and business administration. The Arabian Gulf University (founded in 1980) has faculties in science, engineering and medicine, and is in fact a joint venture project among the six Gulf Cooperation Council members and Iraq. Each nation is allocated 10% of the seats (total 70%) and the remaining 30% are given to other countries. Also important is the Bahrain Training Institute, which currently has over 50% female students.
There are also 67 adult education centers in Bahrain, which have helped to reduce the illiteracy rate of the country. For promoting technical education, a "10,000 Training Plan" was launched in 1980. Nearly 6,500 students have participated in this program since its inception and scholarships are given to students to pursue higher studies at Bahrain or abroad. In 1994 all institutions of higher learning had 655 teachers and enrolled 7,147 students.