Early Yemeni education, with regard to medieval disciplines of law, religion, history and poetry, was sophisticated and, for a country of its type, remarkably widespread. Its people contributed nobly to medieval Islamic civilization. The Al-Azhar University of Cairo was well known for its education during the 10th and 11th centuries and it attracted students from nearby countries such as Ethiopia, Arabia, and Somalia. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, there was slow progress in the field of education. Prior to the 1962 revolution, no proper educational system was in place. Civil war and internal political upheaval only worsened the situation.
In 1990, the literacy rate for the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen was 39.1% (males, 52.8%; females, 26.1%). The rate for the Yemen Arab Republic was 38.5% (males, 53.3%; females, 26.3%). In the unified Republic of Yemen, adult illiteracy rates for the year 2000 were estimated at 53.8% (males, 32.6%; females, 75.0%). As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.6% of GDP.
In 1997, primary schools enrolled 2,699,788 pupils and employed 90,478 teachers. Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 30 to 1. At the secondary level in the same year, there were a total of 354,288 students. As of 1999, an estimated 61% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 37% of those eligible attended secondary school.
There are two universities: Sana University (founded in 1970) and the University of Aden (established in 1975). Total university enrollment in 1997 reached 65,675. In addition, over 2,000 Yemenis are being educated at foreign universities.