Traditionally elementary students were educated by mullahs or Islamic teachers in the masjid schools, who taught the four ‘R’s - reading, writing, arithmetic and religion – usually by rote.
Whilst a number of special schools were established in the 19th century, the beginning of formal schooling in Afghanistan may be traced back to the reign of Habibullah Khan (1901-1919), who founded the Habibia High School in 1904 with a curriculum modelled on that of British India. The Royal Military College and a Teacher’s Training College followed and the primary education system grew steadily.
King Amanullah Khan (1919-1929) made primary education compulsory and also opened the first primary school for girls. Secondary schools were developed and the school system began to expand into the provinces. In 1935 education was declared universal, compulsory and free. The current structure of eight years of general basic education followed by four years of secondary education was introduced during the educational reform of 1975. A concours exam at the end of high school is taken by those who wish to go to university. Kabul University was founded in 1932 as a major seat of learning with free tuition. Nine other colleges were established within the University between 1938 and 1967. Before 1961 only men could receive a higher education, but in that year all faculties were made co-educational. In 1962 the University of Nangarhar was established in Jalalabad to teach medicine and related disciplines. Higher education is provided by six universities (including a University of Islamic Studies), one Agricultural Institute, one Polytechnic, one State Medical Institute and several teacher training colleges. In February 2002, after years in which they had been banned from receiving an education, more than 1,000 women students took university entrance examinations.