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. 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. 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. 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.
Primary and Secondary Education
In 1987 the school program consisted of six years of primary school, three years of preparatory school (junior high), and three years of secondary (high) school. A five-year primary teaching program could be elected upon completion of primary school. A technical high-school program (including industrial subjects or commerce and agriculture) and two-year and four-year programs for the training of primary-school teachers were among the offerings at the secondary level. In the mid-1970s, nearly one-half of the primary, preparatory, and secondary enrollments were in Tripoli and Benghazi, but by the late 1980s schools were well distributed around the country, and boarding facilities for students from remote areas were available at some schools at all academic levels.
The enrollment of girls in primary schools increased from 34 percent of the total in 1970 to nearly 47 percent in 1979. During the same period, female enrollment in secondary schools was up from 13 percent to 23 percent, and in vocational schools from 23 percent to 56 percent of total enrollment. However, the number of girls attending school in some rural areas was well below the national average, and a high female dropout rate suggested that many parents sent their daughters to school only long enough to acquire basic skills to make them attractive marriage partners.
During the early 1980s, a variety of courses were taught in primary and secondary classes. English was introduced in the fifth primary grade and continued thereafter. Islamic studies and Arabic were offered at all levels of the curriculum, and several hours of classes each week were reportedly devoted to Qadhafi’s Green Book.
The University of Libya was founded in Benghazi in 1955, with a branch in Tripoli. In 1973 the two campuses became the universities of Benghazi and Tripoli, respectively, and in 1976 they were renamed Gar Yunis University and Al Fatah University, respectively. In 1981 a technical university specializing in engineering and petroleum opened at Marsa al Burayqah. Enrollments were projected at 1,700 students. In addition, there were technical institutes at Birak, Hun, and Bani Walid. By the early 1980s, schools of nuclear and electronic engineering and of pharmacy had been established at Al Fatah University, while plans called for the construction of an agricultural school at Al Bayda for 1,500 students.
Expansion of facilities for higher education was critical to meeting skilled personnel requirements. Technical education was being emphasized in keeping with a trend toward more specialized facilities for both secondary and university studies. In 1982 the GPC passed a resolution calling for the replacement of secondary schools by specialized training institutes whose curricula would be closely integrated with those of the universities and technical institutes. In 1985 the GPC called for a further expansion of vocational and professional training centers and for measures to compel technically trained students to work in their fields of specialization. Students were also expected to play a more active role in the economy as the country attempted to overcome the shortage of skilled manpower caused by the expulsion of foreign workers in 1985. In view of declining allocations for education in the mid-1980s, however, it was doubtful if these and other goals would be met.
University enrollment figures for the 1980s were unavailable in 1987. However, they had risen without interruption since the 1950s, and it seemed probable that this trend was continuing. About 3,000 students were enrolled in the University of Libya in 1969. By 1975 the figure was up to 12,000, and a 1980 total of 25,000 was projected. Female enrollments rose dramatically during this period, from 9 percent of total enrollments in the 1970-71 period, to 20 percent in the 1978-79 period, to 24 percent in the early 1980s.
In the 1970s, many students went abroad for university and graduate training; in 1978 about 3,000 were studying in the United States alone. In the early 1980s, however, the government was no longer willing to grant fellowships for study abroad, preferring to educate young Libyans at home for economic and political reasons. In 1985 Libyan students in Western countries were recalled and their study grants terminated. Although precise information was lacking, many students were reportedly reluctant to interrupt their programs and return home.
University students were restless and vocal but also somewhat lacking in application and motivation. They played an active role in university affairs through student committees, which debated a wide range of administrative and educational matters and which themselves became arenas for confrontation between radical and moderate factions. University students were also among the few groups to express open dissatisfaction with the Qadhafi government. One major source of tension arose from the regime’s constant intervention to control and politicize education on all levels, whereas most Libyans regarded education as the path to personal and social advancement, best left free of government meddling.
In 1976 students mounted violent protests in Benghazi and Tripoli over compulsory military training. More recently, in March 1986 students of the faculties of English and French at Al Fatah University successfully thwarted Qadhafi’s attempt to close their departments and to destroy their libraries, part of the Arabization campaign and another of Qadhafi’s steps to eliminate Western influence. A compromise was worked out whereby the departmental libraries were spared, but both foreign languages were gradually to be phased out of university curricula. After this incident, Qadhafi announced that Russian would be substituted for English in Libyan schools, a policy which, if implemented, was certain to cause both practical and political difficulties.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress