Hello all! Today we start the next worldbuilding series–education systems. Fantasy tends to treat education in one of three ways: oddly anachronistic schools, the wise old (often deceased) mentor, and the self-taught. While these are all very valid options, there is more to education people than just this.
Why is education important?
Your characters got that knowledge they have somehow. Was it beaten into them from Training From Hell? Have they been spurred on from the inevitable death of their wise old mentor? Maybe they just made connections in that school they grew up in–connections that can help deepen the character interactions in your plot. Education shapes not only what your character knows, but how they react to authority figures and other people.
Education can also be the focus of your plot. Think of more than just school settings (like Hogwarts) and quests for lost knowledge that will somehow save the world. Maybe a character wants to join a special program, but is being kept out for some reason. Maybe your characters are fighting against indoctrination or the invasion of privacy.
Even if your character was raised by wolves, they’re going to grow up learning something. (See Wolf’s Head, Wolf’s Heart by Jane Linsolkd.) Oral cultures still had ways of passing down knowledge–lacking books won’t get you off the hook. Education might be no more than peripheral to your story, but it’s still relevant to your character.
Here are some basic questions you might consider when determining how education works in your world:
- What knowledge is considered basic, that everyone should know?
- How does this vary between the social classes/genders/other societal divisions?
- What happens to people who lack that education?
- How is basic knowledge acquired?
- How is professional knowledge acquired?
- Are there any trade secrets?
- Is the society literate? How widespread is literacy?
- How much access to information does the public have?
- What information is considered private? What are people allowed not to share?
- How are children/adolescents/adults/elderly educated?
- What education, if any, is standardized?
- What credentials, if any, must an educator have?
- How are people educated?
- Who is educated, and to what extent?
- Can magic be taught?
Future Essays in this Series
All of the above questions will show up and be elaborated on in the future essays, along with a number of questions not brought up at this time. Look for the following essays to address a wide variety of topics in education:
- Literate Cultures vs Oral Cultures and Everything In-Between
- How is knowledge passed down?
- How widespread is literacy?
- How important is literacy?
- How much access to books does the average person have in your literate setting?
- What is the most basic knowledge that everyone needs?
- How consistent is the education given?
- Who teaches? Do they need to have any credentials?
- Are there things which can’t/won’t be taught? How consistent are they?
- Access to Education
- Who can access education? Do different levels of education correspond to different social classes?
- How is access to education related to gender norms and family responsibilities?
- Access to Information
- How much access does the average person have to information?
- What, if any, information is restricted?
- What, if any, information are people allowed to keep private?
- Education of Children
- Who teaches children?
- At what age does that change?
- What discipline methods are allowed?
- What do children learn?
- Education of Adults
- Who chooses an adult’s profession?
- Can a person learn more than their particular trade?
- Ethics in Education
- Are any subjects not allowed to be taught in school?
- How are teacher/student relationships handled?
- What are the punishments for plagiarism?
- Education Methods
- How are people taught?
- Rote memorization
- Required reading
- Discussion groups
- How are people taught?