All children must receive at least eleven years of schooling in Israel and education is free for all children between 5 and 15 years of age.
Primary education lasts for six years, followed by three years of lower secondary education and three more years of upper secondary education. Four types of school exist: public religious (Jewish) and public secular schools (the largest group); schools of the orthodox Agudat Israel (which is an independent school system assisted by government funds); public schools for Arabs; and private schools, mainly operated by Catholic and Protestant organizations. The language of instruction in Jewish schools is Hebrew; in Arab schools it is Arabic. Arabic is taught as an optional language in Jewish schools, while Hebrew is taught in Arab schools from the fourth grade onwards.
Education has always been important to Jewish society and in Israel it plays a major part in the life and culture of the country. Most schools are subsidized by the state.
The culmination of Israeli secondary education is the sitting of the Israeli matriculation exams, or "bhinot bagrut". These are made up of a multitude of subjects. Students are required to have a passing mark on the minimum required matriculation subjects (Hebrew language, English language, mathematics, scripture and literature) as well as pass a number of other tests in order to receive a full matriculation certificate. In 2003, 56.4% of Israeli high school graduates received a matriculation certificate - 57.4% in the Hebrew sector and 50.7% in the Arab sector.
After secondary education, students are generally conscripted into the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), but may request an extension of the conscription date to study at a college or university. Those who study in a university at this stage generally do so under a program called atuda, where their Bachelor's Degree is paid for by the army. They are however obliged to sign a contract with the army extending their service by 2-3 years.
Following service in the Israel Defense Forces any Israeli with a full matriculation certificate can proceed to higher education. All universities and some colleges are subsidized by the state and students pay only a small part of the actual tuition costs.
Israel has eight universities.