Education Systems – Standardization

by Rose Hill

Unless we’re looking at future tech or a dystopia society, one does not typically associate “standardization” with educational systems in Fantasy.  Large gaps in education are not uncommon.


That said, there’s always something that a culture considers basic knowledge that should be taught to all its children.  This can change from culture to culture.  It should change from culture to culture to reflect the different values each culture has.  But even once you determine what one must know to be a functioning member of their society, there are a number of other questions that come up.


What is the most basic knowledge everyone needs?


What a culture considers basic will depend on their values.  A highly religious culture will dictate knowledge of religious stories and myths.  A culture that reveres family and ancestors may require memorization of one’s ancestors (to some particular point back in history).  A highly literate culture might consider reading and writing an absolute requirement (like modern Western society).


There are few cultures who would not have some recognition of numbers, seasons, and colors, even if they do not necessarily match up to what we might think.  Remember–0 had to be invented.  There also might not be any need for particularly high numbers.  Seasons will vary by the climate, but the way it is described might change.  Don’t think in terms of just spring/summer/fall/winter.  If you have a race that does not see all colors–or sees more than humans–think about the differences that might appear in how they describe colors.


Some ideas for basic education:

  • Common religious myths
  • Recent history
  • Numbers and counting
  • Basic math
  • Reading and writing
  • Edible/local plants


Who teaches?  Do they need to have any credentials?


Are there designated teachers in your culture?  Are the parents responsible for basic knowledge, like numbers and colors?  Are parents responsible for all education?  Are children apprenticed in their parents’ trades?  If parents are responsible for some, but not all, of the education, when does that switch happen?


Are there different teachers for different subjects or ages?  Are there different teachers for different genders or magical ability?  How much cross-over are the teachers allowed in the subjects they can teach?


If you have multiple fantasy races in your setting, can people teach across species?  Are certain species seen as inherently better for teaching certain subjects (whether true or not)?  Are certain species prohibited from teaching for any reason?  Are those reasons based in prejudices or actual reasons?


Do teachers have to be licensed?  If so, who licenses them?  What sort of education is a prerequisite for the licensure?  For what reasons can a license be refused or disciplined?


How consistent is the education given?


Consistency generally comes from control.  This control could be from the outside–someone dictating what education is given/received–or it could be internal–a teacher giving all students the same level of education.  Outside levels of control are probably going to be related to some sort of teacher qualification or licensure.  There is an outside force who wants to make sure the education is all the same.  Internal levels of control generally work best on a small scale.  It’s hard to have one person be the teacher for an entire planet–though if your worldbuilding takes you there, go for it.


Consider magically implanted knowledge as well.  Could a telepath ensure that each student gets exactly the same knowledge about a given subject by dropping it in their heads?  Does a hivemind give the same knowledge to all its individual members?


If the education in your world is generally consistent (for example, there are outside standards they must meet), how much variation is allowed between each individual student?  How much variation is allowed from each individual teacher?  Can teachers choose how to teach their different subjects, or is that dictated by someone else?  Can teachers pick and choose their students?  What happens to students who don’t get picked?


If you have a culture with low levels of personal control but a high level of consistency, it may be the case that you have a tightly-knit community that is internally self-correcting.  For example, if all the people of a particular profession meet on an annual (or more often) basis to share news and compare notes, then any apprentice coming in to this profession will have a large field of peers and teachers to compare themselves to and be corrected by.


Are there things which can’t/won’t be taught? 


This is, at its base, two different questions.  Things which can’t be taught generally rely on experience.  Religious experiences often fall in this category–magic could too.  Maybe one only learns how to defeat a particular creature by actually doing it.  Maybe a particular ability of the race is so instinctual none of them know how to teach it.  Maybe there is a ritual that grants an ability, rather than learning said ability directly.


Things which won’t be taught get to the heart of what a culture values and abhors.  If sex is considered shameful, there might be no sex education.  If an exclusivist religion predominates, other religions are unlikely to be taught–or if they are taught, it is as mythology or with an eye to convert them.


What things have people been banned from teaching?  Subversive artists/works, suppressed languages, conquered cultures, shameful histories, heretical ideas.  Is magic banned?  What about works from other cultures?  Is religion banned?  Consider all the books that have been banned, and the various reasons people have given for banning them.


What happens to people who continue to teach banned subjects?  Could they lose their authority to teach?  Could they be threatened or beaten or killed?  Do people teach banned subjects openly or secretly?  Why do the teachers who continue to teach banned subjects press on?  What motivates them despite the danger?


Banned subjects are highly likely to have an inconsistent level of education given, because instead of a force mandating a certain level of education, there is a force forbidding it.