Portugal's education system is divided into Pré-Escolar (children less than 6 years old), Ensino Básico (three phases in a total of 9 years), Ensino Secundário (three years, several areas) and Ensino Superior (Universities and Colleges grouped into Polytechnic Institutes). Education is free and compulsory for 9 years of study. A newly undertaken scheme will make education compulsory until the student becomes an adult (18 years old). The country still has a 5.1% illiteracy rate, almost exclusively among the elderly.

The first Portuguese university – The Estudo Geral (General studies, Today's University of Coimbra) - was created on March 1st, 1290 in Lisbon with the document Scientiae thesaurus mirabilis by King Denis. The university was transferred to Coimbra in 1308, though the university moved several times between the two cities until 1537. In 1559, the University of Évora was founded in Portugal by Cardinal Henry, future king of Portugal and Pope Paul IV and it was delivered to the Society of Jesus. In the 18th century, Sebastião de Melo, Marquis of Pombal closed the University of Évora, because he wanted to exterminate the Jesuit power in Portugal and in its empire. He also reformed the University of Coimbra, as it was divorced from the true exact sciences. The 19th century - the industrialization era - created the need for new education institutions in the country, the "industrial studies". In 1837, the Escola Politécnica (Polytechnic School) in Lisbon and the Academia Politécnica opens. The rhetorical behaviour of these new institutions led the Prime-Minister of the Kingdom Fontes Pereira de Melo in 1852 to create the Instituto Industrial de Lisboa (Institute of Industry, today's IST and ISEL) in Lisbon and the Escola Industral (School of Industry, today's ISEP) in Porto. In 1825, the Lisbon Royal School of Surgery and Porto Royal School of Surgery had also opened.

With the advent of the republic, the polytechnic and surgery schools were incorporated as faculties into the newly created University of Lisbon and the University of Porto. The Lisbon Institute of Industry led to the creation of IST (the Institute of Technology) which was grouped with other colleges in the Technical University of Lisbon in the 1930s. In the 1960s the first non-governmental institution opened, the Portuguese Catholic University.

The 1970s marked a new era in Portugal's higher education with many universities and polytechnics opening in many cities, such as the University of Aveiro and the University of Minho in the university sub-sector, and the Lisbon Polytechnic and Porto Polytechnic in the polytechnic sub-sector. Subsequently, several private universities opened.

Today with the Government's new educational reforms, every Portuguese student aged between 6 and 7 are provided Magalhães, mini lap-tops, to enhance their learning.