For the year 2000, 8.4% of the adult population was estimated to be illiterate (males, 5.5%; females, 11.1%). All education from kindergarten up to and including university training is free. Education is compulsory for 10 years, except when schools are not within walking distance of the pupil's home.
The public educational system was consolidated in 1970 into five years of elementary, six years of lower secondary, and two years of higher secondary. In 1996, there were 9,554 primary schools, with 1,843,848 students and 66,339 teachers. Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 28 to 1. In 1995, secondary schools had 2,314,054 students and 103,572 teachers. As of 1999, an estimated 97% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school. In the latter part of the 1990s, the estimated expenditure on education was 8.9% of the central government budget. As of 1995, public expenditure on education was 3% of GDP. Since 1986, the educational system has been separated into two systems based on language, one in which Sinhalese is the medium of instruction and the other in which the medium is Tamil.
Beginning in 1978, Sri Lanka reorganized its higher education system; in 1986 there were nine universities: Colombo, Peradeniya, Moratuwa, Sri Jayawardhanapura, Kelaniya, Jaffna, Ruhuna, Open University, and Batticaloa. These universities operate as independent units under the University Grants Commission, which is funded by the Ministry of Education. Included in the consolidated university system are the former Vidyalankara University (established 1959), previously known as the Vidyalankara Pirivena (established 1875), a celebrated seat of learning for Oriental studies and Buddhist culture; the former Vidyadaya University (established 1959); and the former University of Ceylon (founded 1942). In 1995, universities and equivalent institutions had 2,636 teachers and 63,660 students.