The proportion of illiterate persons is declining and was estimated in 2000 at 58.6% of adults (males, 40.9%; females, 76.2%). After free primary education was introduced in 1975, school enrollment for children ages 6–11 increased from about one-fourth of the total to over one-half by the mid-1980s. By 1996, there were 22,218 primary schools with 3,447,607 pupils and 89,378 teachers. Secondary students numbered 1,121,335 and were instructed by 36,127 teachers in 1996. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 38 to 1 in 1999. In the same year, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.5% of GDP.
Traditional schools (pathshalas) provide a classical education emphasizing languages. Gompas along the northern border train boys and men to become Buddhist religious leaders. English schools are modeled after those in India. Under a 1954 plan, a national school system with a single curriculum has been replacing the traditional schools, although English schools have increased.
In 1996, 105,694 students were enrolled in all higher-level institutions.