The standard of education in Venezuela is among the highest in the region. Of Venezuelans aged 15 and older, 93.4% can read and write, one of the highest literacy rates in the region. The literacy rate in 2003 was estimated to be 93.8% for males and 93.1% for females. Although the Venezuelan education system is overextended and underfunded, the Venezuelan government remains committed to the idea that every citizen is entitled to a free education.
Nine years of education are compulsory education. The school year extends from September to June-July. The student population and the education budget have increased, but many children do not attend school because of poverty. An estimated 20% of the population is without any formal education. The Ministry of Education of Venezuela's efforts are aimed at adapting the curriculum to the demands of an increasingly technological society, expanding compulsory education, and upgrading teacher qualifications.
Many children under five attend a preschool. Children are required to attend school from the age of six. They attend primary school until they are eleven. They are then promoted to the second level of basic education, where they stay until they are 14 or 15. Public school students usually attend classes in shifts. Some go to school from early in the morning until about 1:30pm and others attend from early afternoon until about 6:00pm. All schoolchildren wear uniforms. Although education is mandatory for children, some poor children do not attend school because they must work to support their families.
Venezuela has more than 90 institutions of higher education, with more than 6 million students. Higher education remains free under the 1999 constitution and was receiving 35% of the education budget, even though it accounted for only 11% of the student population. More than 70% of university students come from the wealthiest quintile of the population. To address this problem, the government established the Bolivarian University system in 2003, which designed to democratize access to higher education.