Education has played a crucial role in social mobility in Costa Rica. As early as 1869, the right to free and compulsory primary school education was established in the constitution. Subsequently, the education system has expanded greatly; at the turn of the last century, the salaries of the folk teachers were a heavier item in the state budget than those of the army officers. It is especially after the revolution, when the army was abolished, that great efforts have been made in education. Since the 1970s, around 1/5 of the expenditure in the state budget, corresponding to about 5 percent of GDP, has gone to the education system. In 1864, 90 percent of the country’s population was illiterate. Today, literacy is almost complete (98 percent of the adult population), and Costa Rica’s educational system is ranked as one of the best in Latin America.
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Both primary and secondary school are formally compulsory for children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 16. There is also a non-compulsory preschool. In 2013, 90 percent of the compulsory school children in primary school (net, grades 1–6) were enrolled and 73 percent in secondary school (net, grades 6–12). The level of education is still slightly lower in rural areas.
The Universidad de Costa Rica was founded in 1843 in San José and reopened in 1940. Subsequently, a college of technology and three universities have been added. In addition, there are about fifty private universities and post-secondary educational institutes.
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Under the state system, all tuition is free of charge. However, the standard of state education has dropped significantly, which has led to an explosive development of private schools, especially at the elementary and upper secondary level. Higher education, on the other hand, is of relatively good quality. All private tuition is controlled by the state.