In 1930, 72% of Salvadorans over 10 years of age were illiterate; by the year 2000, the figure had been reduced to about 21.3% (males, 18.4%; females, 23.9%). As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.5% of GDP. Primary education is free and compulsory through elementary school, and the public school system is government controlled. Enforcement of primary-school attendance is difficult, however, and truancy is high in rural areas. Primary education lasts for nine years, followed by three years of secondary education, on completion of which students can obtain the "Bachillerato," which is equivalent to a high school diploma.
The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 28 to 1 in 1995. In 1997 there were 1,191,052 students enrolled in primary schools. In the same year, secondary schools had 152,474 students and approximately 9,300 teachers. As of 1999, an estimated 81% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school.
In 2000, an institutional reform process for education has been initiated under a Basic Education Modernization Project, and the government is seeking international funding support for improvements in the quality and coverage of secondary education.
Twelve private and three public universities offer higher education. In 1996, 112,266 students were enrolled and 5,919 teachers taught at the universities and other higher-level institutions. The University of El Salvador in San Salvador, authorized in 1841 and with enrollments averaging 30,000, was a base for antigovernment agitation during the 1970s. The university was stormed and ransacked by government troops on 26 June 1980; at least 50 students and the rector were killed, and the university did not reopen for several years.