The first schools in Tonga were started by the Wesleyan Mission in 1828, even before the conversion to Christianity of the Tongans, and practically all primary education was controlled by the Mission until 1882 when the government took over the educational system. In 1906, various missionary organizations again were allowed to establish schools.
A teacher-training college, established in 1944, provides a two-year course. A government scholarship program provides the opportunity for Tongan students to pursue higher education abroad.Primary education is compulsory for all Tongans. Adult literacy is estimated at higher than 90%. Mission schools, which follow a government syllabus, enroll about 8% of all primary pupils and 89% of students at post-primary level. No tuition is charged at government schools (except the high school), but small fees are charged at mission schools. In 1993 there were 16,792 pupils in Tonga's 115 primary schools, with 754 teachers. In the same year, secondary schools enrolled 16,750 students. The pupil-teacher ratio at the primary level was 21 to 1 in 1999. Elementary instruction is given in the Tongan language; English is also taught. Selected Tongan students prepare for the New Zealand school certificate examination.