The earliest schools in Chad were Qur'anic schools. They are still common throughout the Saharan and Sahel region. They teach Arabic and the words of the Qur'an. The country's first Qur'anic secondary school was the École Mohammed Illech, which was founded in 1918 and followed an Egyptian educational model.

The first Western-style primary schools were founded by Protestant and Catholic missionaries in the 1920s in southern Chad. The language of instruction was French, at the request of the colonial authorities. The only classes taught in local languages were religion classes. In 1925, the French colonial powers imposed a standard curriculum on all primary schools in Chad. Before 1942, there were no secondary schools other than the Qur'anic schools. A few Chadians attended secondary school in the Republic of Congo.

When independence was declared in 1960, the government announced its goal of universal primary education. The curriculum was changed to reflect Chadian, rather than French, culture. Today, about one-half of school-age children attend school.

Children begin their schooling at age six (in the north, they may begin when they are eight). Primary education lasts for six years, at the end of which students receive a certificate. The curriculum includes writing, reading, spelling, grammar, math, history, geography, science and drawing. The school year runs from October to June.

After primary school, students may attend a collège or a lycée. The collège offers a four-year vocational course, and the lycée offers a seven-year program leading to university. Vocational students who complete the four-year collège program may take an examination to transfer to a lycée to complete their education. At the end of seven years, lycée students take a baccalaureate exam known as a bac, which determines their eligibility for university.

The Université du Tchad opened in 1971. Industrial education is offered at several technical institutes in Sarh, Moundou and N'Djamena. The École Normale Supérieure in N'Djamena offers degree programs in Arabic, English, geography, history, literature and sciences.

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Educational opportunities for girls have traditionally been more limited than those for boys. Although about equal numbers of girls and boys are enrolled in primary school, the number of girls enrolled in secondary school is very low, partly because of early marriage.