Both primary and secondary education are free and compulsory for 10 years, beginning at age five. Children ages one–five are cared for in nursery schools, followed by one year of kindergarten, four years of primary school, and six years of secondary school. The adult literacy rate was reported to be 99% in 1991.
Massive flooding in 1994 damaged and destroyed over 2,000 primary and secondary schools. According to UNESCO's EFA 2000 Assessment Report North Korea has 14,167 two-year kindergartens (with 748,416 pupils), 4,886 four-year primary schools (with 1,609,865 pupils), 4,772 six-year senior middle schools (with 2,181,524 pupils), and over 300 colleges and universities. In the 1990s, the school curriculum was balanced between academic and political subject matter. Subjects such as the Korean language, mathematics, and physical education accounted for most of the instructional time in the classroom; however, more than 8% of instructional time was spent on the "Great Kim Il Sung" and "Communist Morality."
Kim Il Sung University (founded in 1946) in P'yongyang is the only university, with about 16,000 full-time and part-time students and about 3,000 faculty, including teachers and research staff, as of the early 1990s. Admission to the university is by intensely competitive examination. Other institutions of higher learning include the Kimch'aek Polytechnic Institute, P'yongyang Agricultural College, and P'yongyang Medical School. In 1987 there were 220,000 students attending two- or three-year higher specialized schools and 301,000 students attending four- to six-year colleges and university courses. A system of adult schools, correspondence courses, and workplace schools makes higher education widely available.