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Under the monarchy, all Libyans were guaranteed the right to education. Primary and secondary schools were established all over the country, and old Quranic schools that had been closed during the struggle for independence were reactivated and new ones established, lending a heavy religious cast to Libyan education. The educational program suffered from a limited curriculum, a lack of qualified teachers--especially Libyan--and a tendency to learn by rote rather than by reasoning, a characteristic of Arab education in general. School enrollments rose rapidly, particularly on the primary level; vocational education was introduced; and the first Libyan university was established in Benghazi in 1955. Also under the monarchy, women began to receive formal education in increasing numbers, rural and beduin children were brought into the educational system for the first time, and an adult education program was established.

Total school enrollment rose from 34,000 on the eve of independence in 1951, to nearly 150,000 in 1962, to about 360,000 at the time of the 1969 revolution. During the 1970s, the training of teachers was pushed in an effort to replace the Egyptian and other expatriate personnel who made up the majority of the teaching corps. Prefabricated school buildings were erected, and mobile classrooms and classes held in tents became features of the desert oases.

In 1986 official sources placed total enrollments at more than 1,245,000 students, of whom 670,000 (54 percent) were males and 575,000 (46 percent) were females (see table 2, Appendix ). These figures meant that one-third of the population was enrolled in some form of educational endeavor. For the 1970-86 period, the government claimed nearly 32,000 primary, secondary, and vocational classrooms had been constructed, while the number of teachers rose from nearly 19,000 to 79,000 (see table 3, Appendix). The added space and increased number of new teachers greatly improved student-teacher ratios at preprimary and primary levels; rising enrollments in general secondary and technical education, however, increased the density of students per classroom at those levels.

At independence, the overall literacy rate among Libyans over the age of ten did not exceed 20 percent. By 1977, with expanding school opportunities, the rate had risen to 51 percent overall, or 73 percent for males and 31 percent for females. Relatively low though it was, the rate for females had soared from the scanty 6 percent registered as recently as 1964. In the early 1980s, only estimates of literacy were available--about 70 percent for men and perhaps 35 percent for women.

In 1987 education was free at all levels, and university students received substantial stipends. Attendance was compulsory between the ages of six and fifteen years or until completion of the preparatory cycle of secondary school. The administrative or current expenses budget for 1985 allocated 7.5 percent of the national budget (LD90.4 million) to education through university level. Allocations for 1983 and 1984 were slightly less--about LD85 million), just under 6 percent of total administrative outlays.

From its inception, the revolutionary regime placed great emphasis education, continuing and expanding programs begun under the monarchy. By the 1980s, the regime had made great strides, but much remained to be done. The country still suffered from a lack of qualified Libyan teachers, female attendance at the secondary level and above was low, and attempts in the late 1970s to close private schools and to integrate religious and secular instruction had led to confusion. Perhaps most important were lagging enrollments in vocational and technical training. As recently as 1977, fewer than 5,000 students were enrolled in 12 technical high schools. Although unofficial estimates placed technical enrollments at nearly 17,000 by 1981, most doctors, dentists, and pharmacists in the early 1980s still came from abroad. Young Libyans continued to shun technical training, preferring white collar employment because it was associated with social respect and high status. As a consequence, there seemed to be no immediate prospect for reducing the heavy reliance on expatriate workers to meet the economy's increasing need for technical skills.

A major source of disruption was the issue of compulsory military training for both male and female students. Beginning in 1981, weapons training formed part of the curriculum of secondary schools and universities, part of a general military mobilization process (see Conscription and the People's Militia , ch. 5). Both male and female secondary students wore uniforms to classes and attended daily military exercises; university students did not wear uniforms but were required to attend training camps. In addition, girls were officially encouraged to attend female military academies. These measures were by no means popular, especially as they related to females, but in the mid-1980s it was too soon to assess their impact on female school attendance and on general educational standards.

Data as of 1987

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Libya Table of Contents