Japan's entire educational system was reorganized along US lines after World War II, adhering to a six-three-three-four plan (six years of primary school, three years of lower secondary school, three years of upper secondary school—full-time, part-time or correspondence—and four years of college). Education is compulsory and provided free of charge for the first nine years, from age 6 through 14. Coeducation has become an accepted principle. Virtually the entire adult population is literate. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.5% of GDP.
Entrance into high schools, the stage following the compulsory level, is by examination only, and most of these schools charge tuition. Would-be national and local public university students must pass entrance examinations in Japanese, English, mathematics, science, and social studies. There are three types of institutions for higher education—universities, junior colleges and technical colleges, all of which receive prefectural and national support or annual subsidies. There are 95 national universities, with each prefectural capital having one school; the remainder are in the principal cities. The largest religious bodies, both Christian and Buddhist, maintain important universities and other educational institutions. There are many special schools for the handicapped.
Enrollment at both the compulsory elementary and secondary levels is very high—virtually 100%. Approximately 29.1% of students continued on to university level education in 1990.
In 1998, 7,855,387 students were enrolled in 24,376 elementary schools, with 420,901 teachers. In 1995, 9,878,568 students were enrolled in secondary schools, with 702,575 teachers. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 21 to 1 in 1999. In 1995, there were a total of 401,509 teaching faculty and 3,917,709 students enrolled in all higher educational institutions.
Educational activities for adults and youths are organized both by government and private bodies. There is a board of education in each of the 47 prefectures and 3,000 municipalities and these serve as the local education authority. The central education authority is the Ministry of Education, which provides guidance and financial assistance to the local bodies. In 1996, approximately 3.6% of the Gross Domestic Product was allocated to education.