Education has been a priority for the government of the UAE since the state was established in 1971. Traditionally, most children were taught about household or occupational skills at home. Some children went to religious schools called Madressah where they were instructed in reading Islam's holy book, the Qur'an. Some young people left the country to attend school or university.

 Today there are more than 290,000 children in government schools throughout the country. Each village has a primary school and larger towns have secondary schools with boarding facilities. Illiteracy in the UAE has declined quickly, especially among women. The illiteracy rate, which was 77% in 1980, had dropped to 20% by 1995.

Education is compulsory for six years, staring from the age of six. At the secondary level, students may continue for another six years. Education is free to all citizens at all levels, including university. School uniforms, books, equipment and transportation are also provided free of charge. Boys and girls have equal access to education, but are taught in separate schools.

 There is also a large private education sector. Nearly 40% of the students in the Emirates are enrolled in private schools. A number of these schools teach in the languages of the various expatriate communities in the UAE. There are English, French, German and Urdu schools that follow the curriculum used in the home country.

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Women's groups throughout the country have been at the forefront of the campaign to educate women. Today two-thirds of the students at the Emirates National University are women.
In 1977 the Emirates National University was established to provide a university education for Emiratis. The university was modelled on universities in the United States. The university offers programs in liberal arts, engineering, science, agriculture and medicine. A number of foreign colleges and universities have also begun to offer degrees through affiliates in the UAE. Colleges of technology offer a more technically oriented curriculum.

 The government encourages students to attend university by offering them generous financial support and monetary prizes when they graduate. Students who wish to pursue graduate degrees abroad are financed by the government.