Education Systems – Children
by Rose Hill
Now we have finally reached the topic that most people think about when they think education–how are the children taught? This can take as many different forms as there are culture, so make sure what you develop for your world fits the culture you’ve created.
Keep in mind that children learn things naturally. Spoken language comes automatically to humans until roughly puberty age, unless hearing problems or a complete and utter lack of being spoken to interfere. Children watch the people around them, both adults and peers, to learn how to behave. Children also try to accomplish things they want to do, and learn from their mistakes. Not all education is explicitly taught by others. This essay will focus primarily on explicit teaching, though consider what children pick up by example as well.
Who teaches children?
At the earliest ages, children learn from whoever is taking care of them. This could be parents, nurses, governesses, siblings, relatives, or AIs programmed to tend children.
If your species has a life cycle that doesn’t follow the typical human path, consider how those differences might influence education as well. If your frog people are all amphibious, who teaches the tadpoles in the water? If your tree-people start out as seeds, how does the mother tree teach them?
At what age does the primary teacher of children change? Depending on your society, there might not be a point when the primary caretaker stops being the primary teacher. However, that would mean that the child in question is pretty much limited to the caretaker’s profession. Is this something the child wants? If yes, probably not a problem then. Is this something the caretaker wants? If yes, the child will likely learn their trade whether they want to or not. If not, what does the caretaker want for the child, and how are they going to make sure the child gets it?
If not the primary caretaker, who does the child learn from? Are they apprenticed to a particular person who will educate them for years at a time? Do they go to general classes with a bard or priest?
If the teachers change, when do they change? Each year? Each semester/quarter/trimester? Each subject?
Does your race and/or have any idiosyncrasies when it comes to teaching children? Are only people in certain relation to the children or certain social status allowed to teach? Are certain categories of people not allowed access to children (for reasons not related to child abuse)?
What discipline methods are allowed?
Children get unruly sometimes. That’s just the way it is. How do their teachers keep them in line? What punishments are normal? What are the teachers allowed to do to keep order in the classroom?
If teachers go beyond what is normally prescribed for punishment, can they be punished by a higher authority? What recourse do parents have if they disagree with how the teachers are punishing their children? What recourse do orphans have who don’t have parents to speak up on their behalf? What recourse do children have if their parents are simply unsupportive?
Keep in mind that disciplining children is a hot-button issue that people feel strongly about. If this is something you’re going to touch on, you might want to make very clear where the lines of abuse are in your story’s culture. There is a big difference between what is acceptable behavior in your story and what you might find personally acceptable. Don’t get those two confused.
What do children learn?
What subjects are considered necessary? Math is pretty standard, whether your culture is oral or not. Basic counting and arithmetic have been useful since time immemorial. In a literate culture, reading and writing to be taught as children too.
Other skills taught will be highly dependent on culture. Cooking? Hunting? Cleaning? Basic science? Fishing? Consider what skills are necessary for your culture to survive, for people to survive in that climate, and what is valued by the culture. That will tell you what else children are taught.
If you need ideas, try looking up elementary school curriculums. In the US, many states have standards of education that each grade has to meet. This will give you a rough idea of where children are expected to be at a particular age.
What are considered too adult for children to learn? Is anything? How sheltered are children in general? Is there a difference between how much parents shelter their children and how much teachers shelter their students? How are those conflicts resolved?