Before the overthrow of Somoza's dictatorship in 1979, few Nicaraguans received formal schooling. At that time, more than half of the population could not read or write. After the revolution, the new Sandinista government began a literacy campaign. The Sandinistas believed that learning to read and write was a basic human right, and that education should be available to everyone. Their National Literacy Crusade began in 1980. By the end of this campaign, literacy rates had increased and more than a million young people were attending school.
During the 1990s, the government, which had initially promoted better education, limited access to education and many young people were compelled to fight in the war instead of studying. Population growth also limited access to education because the educational system was not large enough to accommodate the increased numbers of school-aged children. The Contra war took its toll in other ways. Scarce government resources were directed to fighting the war, and the Contras made schools and teachers the targets of many of their attacks. The literacy level has therefore dropped.
  Did you know?
Nicaragua has one of the lowest voting ages in the world: 16 year olds can vote in Nicaraguan elections, and have been able to since the 1979 revolution.
Children normally begin school when they are six. Although compulsory education is supposed to last six years, most primary school children do not complete the sixth grade. Many children must earn money by selling candy, tortillas or water in the streets, or working with their parents in the countryside. Because of a shortage of resources, schools run in shifts. The first shift begins early in the morning and runs until lunchtime. The second shift begins just after noon and lasts until late afternoon.

 In most parts of Nicaragua, lessons are taught in Spanish. In the Caribbean lowlands, however, some schools teach in aboriginal languages. A few teach in English, and offer Spanish as a second language.

Nicaragua's first university, the Universidad Autónoma de Nicaragua, founded in 1812, is located in León and also has a campus in Managua. A major Roman Catholic university, the Central American University, is located in Managua.
  Did you know?
In the early 1980s, about 81,000 volunteer teachers were trained and sent all over the country. Many people who had never before had access to education learned to read and write.