In the 1920's, when the emirate of Transjordan was created, the thinly populated region already had a school system. There were 25 schools in the country, run by religious groups. A great emphasis on education came during the reign of King Hussein 1 since 1952. Already in the 1980's, Jordan had reached near 100% enrollment in primary education.
Expenditure has been substantial at periods, but information here is conflicting. Even in the 2000's there are claims on high governmental expenditure, but actual figures is a modest 4.9% of GDP.
The fast growth in education has not come without flaws, and Jordan is often noted for weak quality of the instruction and an inappropriate curriculum. Serious efforts to improve this are continuously being carried through.
The myth has it that Jordan has a very good education system, but apart from good literacy rates (no. 4 in MENA), many factors are negative. The country's best universities are ranked behind many universities in other MENA countries, and growth in universities to a density twice that of European countries causes either universities to have limited services, or to be forced to hire less than well-qualified teachers.
Education of Jordan is free and compulsory, and starts at the age of 5. There is gender balance in attendance to pre-university education.
Expenditure on education was estimated at 4.9% of GDP in 1999, which if calculated to 2008 GDP means $250/capita. Both these figures are modest in MENA, and very low in a world comparison.
In 1952 the literacy rate was 33%, in 1996 85% in 1996, in 2008, 90%. This means that there was a literacy revolution happening largely until the 1990's. The main reason for this was the fast development of basic education across Jordan since independence. Today the figures seem to have stabilized, and so the gender difference, while 5% of men cannot read and write, figures for women is three times with 15%.
The first institution for pupils with special needs was established in the late 1960's offering services to deaf, blind and mentally retarded. In 1993 a law was passed that secures all disabled the full right to an education and inclusion in work life. All fundamental services are provided for free by the state.
Among children with refugee status, UNRWA runs two centres for children with learning difficulties. Definitions of who fits these programs is flexible, from physical impairments to psychological problems.
Private kindergartens are offered children from the age of 3 years 8 months. At the end of the 2000's, ca. 30% of eligible children attend these services.
Basic education is free and compulsory from the age of 5, lasting 10 years. Yet, enrollment in the year 2006 was not 100%; 2% do not attend school, but there is little difference between boys and girls, as well as between urban and rural areas. In 1994, enrollment was 71%.
There is a significant number of private schools, and school fees at private schools is high, costing between $1,000 and $7,000 per year.
Secondary education in Jordan is 2 years, and divided into two main tracks: Academic; and Vocational. In the 2000's about 90% of each age group begin secondary education, with about 3% more girls than boys. As late as 1994, 63% began secondary. Out of these numbers, 63% is quite normal, 90% is a very high figure. There is a substantial drop-out rate at this level of education, up to 30% of those beginning do not finish.
Students receive education in 10 subjects: Arabic; English; Mathematics; Social studies; Computer studies; Natural science; Chemistry; Biology; Physics; and Religion. Muslim students learn about Islam, Christians about Christianity.
Upon completing their education, those on the Academic branch pass a general examination, the Tawjihi, to obtain the General Secondary Education Certificate.
Those on the Vocational branch completes their training with an apprenticeship, and are awarded a certificate.
The United Nations' organization UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) offers an alternative school system in Jordan, but limited to Palestinian refugees. UNRWA schools offer free basic education, as well as vocational education. A large part of children with refugee backgrounds in Jordan, averaging 35 to 40%, attend government and private schools.
Jordan has many universities compared to the size of the population, one per 250,000 inhabitants, which is no. 3 in MENA. But the size of the student population is more average, with 3.3% of total population, Jordan comes no. 6 in MENA. The country's higher institutions are ranked right in the middle on international rankings, placing Jordan in this respect as no. 10 in the MENA region.
Entry to higher education is for holders of the General Secondary Education Certificate. Higher education falls into 2 categories: universities and community colleges. There are public and private institutions of both.
Enrollment rates to higher education has risen dramatically over the last 10 years, today up to 40% of each age group begin education at this level.
Jordanian universities largely follow the Bachelor and Master system. A Bachelor is 4 years in most fields, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Engineering are 5 years, Medicine 6 years.
A Master study follows the completion of a Bachlor's, and takes 2 years.
There are alternatives to the Bachelor/Master structure. Some universities follow German and French systems. The German leads to a Magister degree, the French to a DEA degree. The German and French systems are slowly losing ground.
Teacher education is part of the university system. All teachers must obtain a Bachelor, secondary teachers must in addition pass one more year of study to obtain the Higher Diploma in Education.