Traditionally, Ethiopian education was connected with religion. Church schools for boys taught Biblical texts in Ge'ez. Muslim schools taught the Koran. In general, literacy was limited mostly to religious officials.
Emperor Menelik II established universal secular education in 1907. However, schools were still connected to religious institutions, and for several decades students were still mostly boys from wealthy families. The number of public schools and teachers increased only gradually, a private school system flourished.
After the 1975 revolution, the Derg nationalized all private schools not affiliated with the church and launched a program aimed to improve rural access to education. The number of schools, teachers and students enrolled increased significantly. An ambitious national literacy campaign also offered literacy training in 15 languages. The national literacy rate has since increased to approximately 35%, with men twice as likely to be literate as women. The long war with Eritrea disrupted schooling however, particularly in the north, and there is a chronic shortage of teachers and facilities.
Education is free at all levels, including university, if students attend full-time. School is compulsory from ages 7 to 13, though attendance is generally low and the drop-out rate high. Primary school lasts for eight years. Beginning at age 15, secondary school lasts four years and consists of two phases, the second of which prepares students for post-secondary education. All schools follow a national curriculum. Instruction is in Amharic up to grade eight. English is taught as a second language, and after grade eight is used for all instruction.
After secondary school, students can attend one of the country's 17 institutions of higher learning, six of which are universities. Women often study teaching. The higher education of children is very important to Ethiopian families, and many children go abroad to study.