Contradicting the derogatory stereotypes of Russian literature of the Tsarist period (Ostroumov) and of Soviet historiography on the Karakalpaks’ illiteracy, the author sketches a more qualified picture of educational institutions in nineteenth-century Khwarezm. Elementary education in the matkabs is evoked through the teaching of the “six disciplines (alti savad)”—viz. the reading of the seventh of the Qur’an (Haftyak), the Qur’an itself, and the main textbooks on ethics: the Persian Chahar Kitab, and the Turkic didactical poetry of Fuzuli, Nawayi, and Sufi Allah-Yar). Higher educational institutions (madrasas) are described through the approximations of Russian statistics of the Tsarist period, and through the testimonies of varied Russian narrative sources to the history of the Tas Madrasa in Qypshaq, attributed to Khwaja Niyaz Bay and dated 1857—though it probably replaced a more ancient monument. The teaching programme is depicted through its organisation in two (mas’ala and mushkilat) or more commonly three levels (adna, awsat, a‘la). The article’s last and most substantial part is devoted to the role of ishans in the building and maintaining of madrasas, through the lives of four of them, documented mainly by fiscal and other documents from the Khanate of Khiva, and by the seals of some of them: Imam Muhammad Ishan b. Qajyp-Nazar Bay (late eighteenth – early nineteenth century), ‘Ata-Allah Ishan b. Imam Muhammad Ishan (1801[?]-1877[?]), Qutlugh Khwaja Ishan (alias Qaraqum Ishan, 1787[?]-1867, known by numerous oral tradition and by the gigantic educational complex built by his sons and grandsons), and Ay-Muhammad Ishan (the director of an early-nineteenth-century madrasa in Shymbay).