The first schools in Lebanon were established by the Jesuits in the 17th century. In 1866, American Protestant missionaries founded what has become the American University of Beirut. Despite the fact that these schools were Christian institutions, class instruction was in Arabic and students studied both Arabic and Western literature and history.
Since 1960, the Lebanese government has sponsored free education at the primary and secondary levels, though school is mandatory only at the primary level, which lasts for five years. However, many parents prefer the expense of a private education for their children. As of 1997, over half of all Lebanese students attended a private school. All children wear uniforms to school.
After primary school, Lebanese students may attend a state-run secondary school, but those whose parents can afford it usually attend a private secondary school. The majority of these schools are run by religious groups and offer instruction in French or English. Beginning at age 11, secondary school lasts for seven years. During the last three years, students can choose a vocational or academic stream.
Lebanese children work hard at school. All schools run from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and students receive much homework for the evenings. Enrolment is high, and Lebanon boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East-over 90%.
With the exception of one public institution in Beirut, university education in Lebanon is private and expensive. The country has 21 universities, seven of which are considered excellent. Universities offer training in all fields, including sciences, arts, agriculture, teaching and medicine. The American University of Beirut is regarded as Lebanon's best university .