The objectives of education in Malta include intellectual and moral development and the preparation of every citizen to contribute productively to the national economy.
Although Maltese citizens had access to education during the Arab occupation of 870 to 1090, the arrival of a number of religious orders in the following four centuries brought religious-based education to the island for wealthy families.
The arrival of the Knights Hospitaller saw the establishment of the University of Malta, around which a number of primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions were established.
Education in Malta has been universally available at the primary level since the ejection of the Knights Hospitaller by the French in 1798, when state-funded elementary schooling was established.
In 1878, English replaced Italian as the primary language of instruction, and education was made compulsory in 1946 in response to a number of children not attending school due to poverty between World Wars One and Two. The age at which education became compulsory was lowered to five years in 1988.
Malta's educational system is structured in four stages: pre-primary (ages 3–5), primary (ages 5–11), secondary (ages 11–18) and tertiary.
Pre-primary education is optional but fully funded by the state.
In their last two years of primary education, students are placed on tracks based on educational attainment, and at the age of eleven, students sit an eleven plus examination to determine a student's secondary schooling direction.
Success in the eleven plus exam places a student in a junior lyceum - a prestigious secondary school - while mediocre performance or not sitting the examination places a student in a less competitive secondary school.
Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) examinations are taken at age 16, and matriculation examinations are taken at age 18 to determine university entrance eligibility.
In 2008, 26,711 primary students, 25,793 secondary students, 5,719 post-secondary students, 9,472 tertiary students and 6,268 vocational students were enrolled in educational courses in Malta.
Approximately 30 per cent of Malta's primary and secondary school students are enrolled in private schools, most of which are operated by the Catholic Church. Malta's highest post-secondary institution is the University of Malta, which has operated since 1592.