The Iranian government provides free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 10. However, in some rural areas, children may not have access to schools, and lack of facilities means that some schools operate on two half-day shifts. Secondary school lasts from ages 11 to 18 and consists of two cycles of three and four years each. Parents must pay small fees for their children. Enrollment for secondary school is much lower than for primary schools, about 60% of eligible children.
Iranian schools are segregated by sex. Before the revolution, schools in Iran were secular; the Shi'ite government purged schools of secular influence, and now students have compulsory religious instruction daily. Teachers do most of the talking in both boys' and girls' classes; discussion and questions are not encouraged.
Beginning in the early grades, Iranian students are assigned much memorization and written homework. Children also choose a specialization when young. In the second cycle of high school, students must pick one of three streams: academic, science and math, or vocational-technical. If students choose science, for example, they do not take any writing or literature courses. The first two streams prepare students for university study.
After secondary school, Iranian students have many options for further study. The country has 74 state-run universities, 30 of which are medical institutions, while 12 offer specialized training in areas such as agriculture, arts, oil engineering, teacher training and technology. The Universities of Tehran, Behesuti and Sharif are well-known for training engineers. University is free to students who pass the national entrance examination.
Since the 1979 revolution, students applying for admission to university face two types of admission testing. One is academic, while the other judges how faithful the student and their family have been to Shi'ism. Women and members of groups not favoured by the government have faced increased difficulty in getting into university, and women's enrollment has dropped. Nevertheless, women continue to study and remain among the top-ranking university students.