The foundation of the educational system in Bangladesh was laid down during the period of British rule. The system has three levels—primary, secondary, and higher education. Primary and secondary education is compulsory, though universal participation has remained more an ideal than a fact. Primary education consists of eight years, while secondary education lasts four years. Secondary education is divided into a lower and higher level, and public examinations are held after each schooling level. Schools in cities and towns are generally better-staffed and better-financed than those in rural areas.
(I) Primary level education is provided under two significant institutional arrangements (stream)-general and madrasah.
(II) Secondary education has three major streams: general, technical-vocational, and madrasah.
(III) Higher education has 3 streams: general (inclusive of pure and applied science, arts, business, and social science), madrasah, and technology education. Technology education includes agriculture, engineering, medical, textile, leather technology, and ICT.
Madrasahs (Arabic for an educational institution), functional parallel to the three major stages, have similar core courses as in the general stream (primary, secondary and post-secondary) but have additional emphasis on religious studies.
Higher education is followed by college and university level education through the Pass (3 years) and Honour's Graduate Courses (4 years) in the general education stream. The Master's Degree is of one year's duration for holders of Bachelor's Degree (Honours) and two years duration for holders of (Pass) Bachelor's Degree. Higher education in the technical area also starts after higher secondary level. Engineering, agriculture, business, medical, and information & communication technology are the primary technical and technological education areas.
For vocational training, Bangladesh relies on several engineering colleges and a network of polytechnic and law colleges. Also, an array of specialized colleges is dedicated to training students in areas such as the arts, home economics, social welfare and research, and various aspects of agriculture.
Literacy improved significantly in the 21st century: less than half of the population could read and write at the beginning of the century, but by the late 2010s, more than two-thirds were literate.