The Dominican Republic probably has the longest history of formal education in the Americas. Less than 10 years after Columbus landed on the island, missionaries established schools. In 1538, the first university in the Americas, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was established in Santo Domingo. This university is known today as the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.

 The Dominican Republic has both public and private education. All students go to school for half a day, and all wear uniforms. Some private schools are run by the Roman Catholic Church. They are generally considered to be academically superior to the public schools.

Children start school at the age of 7. The first six years of education are free and compulsory, but not all rural schools offer all six grades. Less than 60% of children complete Grade 5. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school because they need them to work to support the family. Also, until recently, all but the poorest students had to buy their own textbooks and uniforms. In September 1999, the Ministry of Education began to provide free textbooks to children in public elementary schools.
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Many foreign students go to the Dominican Republic for their university education, particularly to study medicine, because the tuition fees are very low.
Secondary schools are either state-operated or state-subsidized. Although secondary school is usually free, students must buy their own textbooks. Only about 40% of children are enrolled in secondary school. There are several types of secondary education. Completion of the six-year liceo leads to university admission. There are also teacher training schools, polytechnics and vocational schools. 

During the late 1990s many new schools were built, many of them by foreign countries, such as Japan, Germany and the United States. Many public schools have benefited from the installation of computers and other equipment donated by other countries. As well as improving academic standards and learning resources, an urgent concern of the Ministry of Education is to improve family education. Family education is needed to address problems such as domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. 

At the time of Trujillo's death, there was only one university in the country. Today, there are more than 30 institutions of higher learning. The Autonomous University of Santo Domingo is the only university that is completely government-funded. For decades, it was the centre of student political action. Partial government subsidies are also provided to certain universities and institutes. The leading private universities include Pedro Henriquez Urena National University and the Pontifical Catholic University Mother and Teacher.