The illiteracy rate for persons 15 years of age and over declined from 11.7% in 1990 to 8.1% in the year 2000 (males, 6.4%; females, 9.8%). The Ministry of Education is the principal authority for all educational programs except higher education, which is supervised by a national technical council. Education received 13.0% of the national budget in the latter part of the 1990s. In 1995, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.2% of GDP.
Education is free and compulsory from ages 6 to 14. At the primary level, in 1997 there were 74,601 teachers and 1,888,172 students enrolled in 17,367 primary schools. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 23 to 1 in 1999. Secondary level schools had 814,359 students and approximately 63,000 teachers in 1993. As of 1999, 98% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 47% of those eligible attended secondary school.
The Central University of Ecuador dates from 1594. There are three Catholic universities, in Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca. The National Polytechnical School in Quito offers degrees in industrial science and mechanical engineering, while the Polytechnical School of the Littoral in Guayaquil provides training in naval and petroleum engineering and in the natural sciences. At the universities and all higher-level institutions, there were 206,541 students enrolled and 12,856 teaching staff in 1991.