Education is compulsory for 11 years and free for all children between 5 and 15 years of age. Primary education is for six years followed by three years of lower secondary and three more years of upper secondary education. A state education law of 1953 put an end to the separate elementary school systems affiliated with labor and religious groupings, and established a unified state-administered system, within which provision was made for state religious schools. Four types of schools exist: public religious (Jewish) and public secular schools (the largest group); schools of the orthodox Agudat Israel (which operated outside the public school system but were assisted with government funds); public schools for Arabs; and private schools, mainly operated by Catholic and Protestant organizations. The language of instruction in Jewish schools is Hebrew; in Arab schools it is Arabic. Arabic is taught as an optional language in Jewish schools, while Hebrew is taught in Arab schools from the fourth grade.
In 1996, primary schools had a total of 631,916 students. Secondary level schools had 541,737 students and approximately 54,000 teachers in the same year. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 13 to 1 in 1999. In the same year, 100% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 88% of those eligible attended secondary school.
Israel has eight institutions of higher learning. The two most outstanding are the Hebrew University (founded in 1918) in Jerusalem and the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion, founded in 1912) in Haifa, both of which receive government subsidies of about 50% of their total budgets; the remaining funds are largely collected abroad. The Tel Aviv University was formed in 1956. Other institutions include the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, opened in 1955 under religious auspices; the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovot, notable for its research into specific technical, industrial, and scientific problems; Haifa University; and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba. An Open University, promoting adult education largely through home study, was established and patterned on the British model. In 1996, universities and equivalent institutions enrolled 198,766 students. Adult illiteracy rates for the year 2000 were estimated at 3.9% (males, 2.1%; females, 5.7%). As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 7.7% of GDP.