Education is free and compulsory in the primary schools and is coeducational. In 1987, a bill to provide free public secondary education for all students was due for approval in Congress. English is the main medium of instruction, although Pilipino or the local vernacular is used for instruction in the lower primary grades. For the year 2000, adult illiteracy rates stood at 4.6% (males, 4.5%; females, 4.8%).
In 1998, 38,631 primary schools had an enrollment of 12,159,495 students, and secondary schools had 4,979,795 students. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was estimated at 35 to 1 in 1999. As of 1999, only 51% of those eligible attended secondary school. The University of the Philippines, in Quezon City, with branches in major islands, is the leading institution of higher learning. In addition, there are some 50 other universities, including the University of Santo Tomás, founded in 1611 and run by the Dominican friars. In 1996, post- secondary institutions had a total enrollment of 2,017,972 students. Approximately 15.7% of central government expenditure was allocated to education in the latter part of the 1990s. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.2% of GDP.