Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Category: education in fantasy

Education Systems – Adult Education

People generally conceive of education as being directed towards children, but that has never been true.  Adults have had cause to learn new things throughout history.  In many cases, one might be required to be of legal age (whatever that age may be) before they are allowed to learn something.

 

What are some reasons an adult might seek education?

  • Continuing their education from childhood
  • Adding additional degrees
  • A change in profession
  • Immigration/emigration

 

Some of the same questions that apply to children apply to adults as well.

 

Who teaches adults?

Do people who teach adults need to have the same credentials as those who teach children?  In the US, those who want to teach children need to have a teaching license.  Depending on the educational institution, all that is needed to teach adults is some form of higher degree.

 

The qualifications of who teaches adults will change depending on the reason an individual seeks the education.  Someone who has moved to a brand-new country and needs to learn the language needs someone fluent in the new language more than they need a teacher with fancy degrees.  Someone changing their profession wants a teacher skilled in their new profession; higher education is only relevant as long as it pertains to the job in question.

 

What discipline methods are allowed?

Typically, corporal punishment is out of the question because adults will fight back.  But this may change depending on the circumstances of the education.  So, how are the adult students kept in line if they get unruly?  Are they sent out of class?  Given lower grades?  Refused permission to return?

 

There are also some questions specific to adults.

 

Who chooses an adult’s profession?

Is it self-chosen?  Do they follow their parents’ profession(s)?  Do their parents/guardians pick their profession for them?  Does a local leader make that choice?  Who gets to make this decision will tell you a lot about the level of autonomy vs social control in your particular culture.

 

Also consider what sort of professions are available.  Hunting isn’t generally an available option in an extremely high-tech society.  Nor would it be viable in a vegetarian society.  Similarly, a computer programmer would be out of the question for a low-tech world.  Consider what sort of jobs your culture would have available and what value they hold in society.

 

Don’t forget to add social class into the mix.  The higher up the social ladder one goes, the less likely you are to find them cleaning waste from the streets.  The lower on the social ladder one is, the less likely they’ll be working in places they might contact the ruling class.  This will impact what jobs are available for your characters.

 

Can a person learn more than their particular trade?

Are people allowed to switch professions?  This will tie into who gets to choose a person’s profession.  If an individual can choose whatever they like, they might be able to change their mind later down the road (assuming that finances and other concerns allow).  But if someone in power chose a person’s profession for them, there is less of a chance that the profession is changeable.

 

What if a person doesn’t want to change their profession, they just want to pick up a new skill or hobby on the side?  Where can this person go for teachers?  Who controls that knowledge?  Are certain trades open to anyone to learn?  Are certain trades restricted to certain individuals?  Are there adult education classes that teach hobbies like these?

 

Can a person be a jack of all trades, and dabble in a bit of everything?  Are they, perhaps, expected to, like a Renaissance Man of old?

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Education Systems – Children

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?

Education Systems – Access to Information

Last week we discussed access to education.  On a similar but slightly different note is the average access to information.  People might be trained to their job, but how much are they told outside of that?  How does the information get passed?  There are many possibilities:

  • Internet
    • Blogs
    • Vlogs
    • News articles
    • Social media
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Scientific Journals
  • Magazines
  • Libraries
  • Town criers
  • Bards
  • Travelling merchants
  • Gossip

 

How much access does the average person have to information?

 

Does the average person have access to a search engine, that can look up anything?  Are they like a modern or future person with a smartphone in their pocket?  Just because someone lives in the future doesn’t mean they have such access.  Think of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It is very clear from the questions he asks that he does not have access to Google or Urban Dictionary.

 

People in pre-modern fantasy might have other access to information.  Are there public libraries?  Are there private libraries?  Who, exactly, are the private libraries restricted to?  Are there books?  Are the books printed or handwritten?  Before the invention of the printing press, books were a long, painstaking, and expensive process.  They were not the sort of thing your average person would have access to.  After the invention of the printing press, literacy increased because books were cheaper and more accessible.

 

In places without books, there could still be other options, such as scrolls and tablets.  Information could be painted or carved on walls and other stone objects.

 

In a non-literate culture, looking up information pretty much becomes impossible, but sharing information becomes a social activity.  The problem arises when the person seeking knowledge doesn’t know who to go to in order to ask the question.  If you need obscure information, there’s no real way to look it up if you don’t know who to go to.

 

Is information limited by any other factors?  The larger a government is, the more control they can have over the amount of information available.

 

What, if any, information is restricted? 

 

Information about the royal family?  Sacred Mysteries of a religious cult?  Prior heresies?  Prior revolutions?

 

Generally, information is restricted if it is considered dangerous.  Why might the restricted information be dangerous?  How might the information be used that people would consider it dangerous?

 

Battle plans are often kept secret so the enemy cannot effectively plan a counterattack, or even launch a pre-emptive strike.  Similarly, the location of important individuals might be kept secret for similar reasons.  Matters of national importance are often restricted, but try to think of minor things too.  What do people want to keep secret?  What lengths will they go to in order to keep that information secret?

 

And just as importantly–who is doing the restricting?  Is it government officials?  Does the restriction have government sanction or not?  Is it a religious organization?  Are there competing religious (or other) organizations that want to keep the information available?  If so, which organization has more power socially and politically?  Is it one lone person systematically going through and destroying and/or hiding information?  Do they have any special powers or technology that helps them accomplish their task?  (Mind-wiping powers, time travel, locator powers, etc..)

 

Is anyone countering the restricted information?  How sanctioned are these groups?  What sort of punishment exists for those who spread restricted information?  How is that information spread?

  • Code?
  • Deep web?
  • Subversive art?
  • Telepathic link?
  • Bound familiar servants?
  • Dream messages?

 

What, if any, information are people allowed to keep private?

 

This ties in directly to the question above.  If information is kept private it is, pretty much by definition, restricted from general access.  But levels of restriction could still vary depending on one’s need to know.  Criminal information is usually kept private, but jobs still request it to see if the applicant will be a risk to the company.  Medical information is generally private, but is still sent to doctors, pharmacies, and insurance companies.
In places where information is not recorded and tracked as much as it is in the modern era, more information can be kept private.  In more futuristic times, it might be harder to keep information private if people are tapped into the Internet at all times.  Similarly, there might be little privacy available in a telepathic culture.

Education Systems – Access to Education

Unless you have some sort of hivemind or telepathically dropped link (and sometimes even then), you will have variations in the ability of people in your culture to access education.  People might theoretically have equal access to all information, but someone with a drive to learn is going to access a whole lot more simply by their choice alone.  When thinking about access to education in fantasy worlds, consider not just what is societally available, but also the motivation of the characters in question.  How much education do they want to access?

Who can access education?

Are all people allowed to access education?  Typically, all people will have access to some level of education, even if it is no more than what is needed to follow orders and recognize their superiors.  But you may have classes of people who are viewed as sub-human or animal in nature, and are barred from the education given to your average member of society.  In such cases, what education are they openly given, and what do they trade within themselves?

That said, even for an average member of society, there may be barriers to accessing any more than the very minimum level of education.  If everything above the basics is taught in distant schools, then people without the means to travel there won’t have access to it.  If the student must pay for education, then poor students won’t have access to it.

Education might be intentionally restricted by guilds or other such societies.  Traditionally, guilds kept the knowledge of their professional skills secret to prevent competition.  Or, you might have religious secrets that are only accessible to those who move up the ranks of the priesthood.  Education could be intentionally limited by things like gender, sex, age, intelligence, genetic makeup, etc…

If magic is believed to be something innate (whether it is or not), magical education might be restricted to those who show the appropriate aptitude.  Conversely, a society might make a show of magical education being “available for everyone,” while in actuality it’s only available for an elite few, or those who do have an innate talent.

When considering access to higher levels or specialties in education, consider prerequisites.  If someone wants to study to be a teacher/priest/mage/bard/hunter/etc, what skills/knowledge do they need to have ahead of time?  How does one obtain those prerequisites?  Can they be waived for certain people?  (Think of the privileges “Chosen Ones” and people with family connections tend to get.)  Are extra requirements added for certain people?  (Consider the extra requirements added for Kel in the Protector of the Small quartet.)  Extra requirements are ways of weeding out people who are technically acceptable but socially unwelcome.

Are there literal barriers that appear when one tries to access education?  Think of a school that is hidden in a labyrinth, underwater, behind a magic veil, or up a mountain.  Think of the mundane accessibility problems from those who have to use crutches or wheelchairs to get around.  Could you imagine trying to use a wheelchair on the moving staircases at Hogwarts?  Do the managers of such school try to help those with limited mobility to access to the education they offer, or are the restrictions intentional?

Do different levels of education correspond to different social classes?

The answer to this question is dependent on how the social classes are divided in your world.  Money is the most basic division and will affect just about every culture that has a moneyed economy.  But people could also be divided based on citizenship, gender, magical ability, species, ethnic group, religion, etc…  People who conform to what the society-at-large values (the correct religion/appearance/gender expression/etc) are more likely to have more access to education (and other forms of power) than those who miss the mark in some way.

Education that has to be paid for will vary greatly depending on wealth.  The wealthy will have far more access to education than the poor.

To take a look at something most people tend to gloss over–how are the outcasts of society educated?  Outcast is a broad term that can cover anything from the untouchables to the homeless to social pariahs, depending on how your society is structured.  If a child is born among the outcasts, what sort of education do they have access to?  If someone becomes an outcast later, are they allowed to continue their education?  Is it even safe for them to do so?  Depending on the complications that made them an outcast, is it even possible?

What education do the outcasts share amongst themselves?  Do they teach each other to read, to do math, do practice magic?  Do they tell the new outcasts the best place to find a free meal, or an overhang to shelter from the rain?

Is there any knowledge that is zealously guarded within any particular social class?

How is access to education related to gender norms and family responsibility?

Who is expected to go to school to get a better job?  Who is expected to stay home and take care of the family members who need it?

Are children expected to get a good education so they can get a good profession and take care of their parents?  Is the oldest child expected to get a job immediately after basic education so that the younger ones can continue on?  How do responsibilities in families shift between the size of family, the profession(s) of the family, and the health of the family members?

One of my close friends was expected to (and did) get a job immediately after graduation and start working to help put her siblings through school.  I knew many women in both high school and college who dropped out of school upon getting married.

If food/meals are something that takes many hours to prepare, who is taking the time to prepare the food instead of being educated or otherwise working to support the family financially?  How many people are needed to support a family financially?  Does that number change depending on how educated the individual workers are?

Are the genders divided in their lessons?  How does this affect those who don’t fall neatly into the gender binary?  Are particular genders expected to be better at a certain subject?  What happens when someone from gender A is good at the subject expected out of gender B?  How do the expected subjects of excellence relate to later professions and gender expectations/roles?

Education Systems – Access to Education

 

Unless you have some sort of hivemind or telepathically dropped link (and sometimes even then), you will have variations in the ability of people in your culture to access education.  People might theoretically have equal access to all information, but someone with a drive to learn is going to access a whole lot more simply by their choice alone.  When thinking about access to education in fantasy worlds, consider not just what is societally available, but also the motivation of the characters in question.  How much education do they want to access?

Who can access education?

Are all people allowed to access education?  Typically, all people will have access to some level of education, even if it is no more than what is needed to follow orders and recognize their superiors.  But you may have classes of people who are viewed as sub-human or animal in nature, and are barred from the education given to your average member of society.  In such cases, what education are they openly given, and what do they trade within themselves?

That said, even for an average member of society, there may be barriers to accessing any more than the very minimum level of education.  If everything above the basics is taught in distant schools, then people without the means to travel there won’t have access to it.  If the student must pay for education, then poor students won’t have access to it.

Education might be intentionally restricted by guilds or other such societies.  Traditionally, guilds kept the knowledge of their professional skills secret to prevent competition.  Or, you might have religious secrets that are only accessible to those who move up the ranks of the priesthood.

If magic is believed to be something innate (whether it is or not), magical education might be restricted to those who show the appropriate aptitude.  Conversely, a society might make a show of magical education being “available for everyone,” while in actuality it’s only available for an elite few, or those who do have an innate talent.

When considering access to higher levels or specialties in education, consider prerequisites.  If someone wants to study to be a teacher/priest/mage/bard/hunter/etc, what skills/knowledge do they need to have ahead of time?  How does one obtain those prerequisites?  Can they be waived for certain people?  (Think of the privileges “Chosen Ones” and people with family connections tend to get.)  Are extra requirements added for certain people?  (Consider the extra requirements added for Kel in the Protector of the Small quartet.)  Extra requirements are ways of weeding out people who are technically acceptable but socially unwelcome.

Are there literal barriers that appear when one tries to access education?  Think of a school that is hidden in a labyrinth, underwater, behind a magic veil, or up a mountain.  Think of the mundane accessibility problems from those who have to use crutches or wheelchairs to get around.  Could you imagine trying to use a wheelchair on the moving staircases at Hogwarts?

Do different levels of education correspond to different social classes?

The answer to this question is dependent on how the social classes are divided in your world.  Money is the most basic division and will affect just about every culture that has a moneyed economy.  But people could also be divided based on citizenship, gender, magical ability, species, ethnic group, religion, etc…  People who conform to what the society at large values (the correct religion/appearance/gender expression/etc) are more likely to have more access to education (and other forms of power) than those who miss the mark in some way.

Education that has to be paid for will vary greatly depending on wealth.  The wealthy will have far more access to education than the poor.

To take a look at something most people tend to gloss over–how are the outcasts of society educated?  Outcast is a broad term that can cover anything from the untouchables to the homeless to social pariahs, depending on how your society is structured.  If a child is born among the outcasts, what sort of education do they have access to?  If someone becomes an outcast later, are they allowed to continue their education?  Is it even safe for them to do so?  Depending on the complications that made them an outcast, is it even possible?

What education do the outcasts share amongst themselves?  Do they teach each other to read, to do math, do practice magic?  Do they tell the new outcasts the best place to find a free meal, or an overhang to shelter from the rain?

Is there any knowledge that is zealously guarded within any particular social class?

How is access to education related to gender norms and family responsibility?

Who is expected to go to school to get a better job?  Who is expected to stay home and take care of the family members who need it/take care of those going to school?

Are children expected to get a good education so they can get a good profession and take care of their parents?  Are the oldest children expected to get a job immediately after basic education so that the younger ones can continue on?  How does responsibilities in families shift between the size of family, the profession(s) of the family, and the health of the family members?

One of my close friends was expected to (and did) get a job immediately after graduation and start working to help put her siblings through school.  I knew many women in both high school and college who dropped out of school upon getting married.

If food/meals are something that takes many hours to prepare, who is taking the time to prepare the food instead of being educated or otherwise working to support the family financially?  How many people are needed to support a family financially?  Does that number change depending on how educated the individual workers are?

Are the genders divided in their lessons?  How does this affect those who don’t fall neatly into the gender binary?  Are particular genders expected to be better at a certain subject?  What happens when someone from gender A is good at the subject expected out of gender B?  How do the expected subjects of excellence relate to later professions and gender expectations/roles?

Education Systems – Standardization

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.

Education Systems -Literate vs Oral Cultures, and Everything in Between

Typically, when one thinks of education in Fantasy, one thinks of magic schools like Hogwarts, or belabored apprentices to old, bearded wizards.  Both of these rely on some level of literacy, typically assuming literate people as the default within the culture.

 

Historically, oral cultures have been around a lot longer than literate cultures.  There’s simply more time to work with if you want inspiration for an oral culture.  Even within cultures that had writing, it has historically been reserved for the educated elite–and/or tax collectors.  The chances of your average farm-boy hero having access to any sort of writing is awfully slim.

 

That said, there’s no reason for characters from oral cultures not to be every bit as intelligent as literate characters.  Literacy is not a mark of intelligence.  A character from an oral culture could very well have a more advanced knowledge of just about any subject not related to literature.

 

Be careful not to fall into the “Noble/Wise Savage” trope.  Just because a character is from an oral culture, doesn’t mean they have any special knowledge about nature.  Just because a character is from a highly literate culture doesn’t mean they’re clueless about nature.  Specialties in knowledge will appear in every cultural group, no matter how that knowledge is gained.

 

How widespread is literacy?

 

No one is born knowing how to read, even in the most literate cultures in the world.  Everyone has to be taught.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone is taught.  Even in highly literate cultures like ours, there are those who slip through the gaps or are otherwise excluded.

 

Who has access to the level of education and supplies necessary to read?  The cost of education and the supplies necessary to teach a person to read will depend on the materials they are reading.  Has the printing press been invented?  That will makes books much cheaper.  Is each book or scroll hand inscribed?  That will make it more expensive.  Do people write on paper?  Do they use papyrus, or slate, or clay?  Do they write with graphite, lead, ink, chalk?  Is all writing carved into stone tablets?

 

Is education offered to everyone, or is it only the purview of the rich?  Perhaps not even the rich bother to read, and it is just the domain of scholars.  Are there any social classes that are banned from learning to read?  Think about how women in certain cultures are discouraged from attending school, or encouraged to drop out early to take care of the home.

 

Is writing considered sacred?  If so, is reading limited to priests, or is universal literacy a part of their religious tenants?

 

Is writing inherently magical?  What effect would that have on learning to read and write?  Would teaching someone to read and write be the same as teaching them spells?  Or are the two separate, but magic is still dependent on writing in some way?  (See Diane Duane’s So You Want to be a Wizard for an example.)

 

If there is a hivemind at work, does everyone need to know how to read?  You could have a class of travelling scholars who go out and read as much as they can, so that all the knowledge is transferred back to the greater collective.

 

What do the people who can read think of those who can’t?  What do people who can’t read think of those who can?  Is literacy a mark of high social status, or are such people seen as a bit clueless/disconnected from life?  Related to this…

 

How important is literacy?

 

What is the social perception of literacy?  Is being able to read considered a part of the basic education that everyone needs?  If yes, then who is responsible for teaching such basic skills?  Who is blamed if a person grows up without those basic skills?

 

If magic is tied to writing and/or reading, then your societal perception of literacy will be directly tied to the social perception of magic.  If reading/writing is restricted to a particular class (scholars, priests, men, the wealthy, foreigners, etc), then perception of literacy will be directly tied to that particular class.

 

If literacy is seen as trivial, it will likely be restricted to those who can afford to invest their free time in a purely leisure pursuit.  It could still be viewed as shameful, or a mark of eccentricity.

 

Is mastering literacy a symbol of the higher classes who can afford the leisure time to study instead of work?  In such cases, literacy will be a required skill to successfully pass as a higher social class.  Similarly, pretending illiteracy will be required to pass as someone from the lowest classes.

 

Historically, basic literacy has been the most common among tax collectors and merchants.  People who have to track money and goods want a way to record what they have, and want a more accurate record than memory.

 

This has largely been a societal discussion, but certain organizations may rely on literacy more than the culture at large.  Think of all the paperwork that goes in to bureaucracy.  How many people need to read the same report?  Who has to collect disparate reports and combine them all together to report higher up?  If a religious organization has a sacred text, think of how far and how much they want to share that text.  Is everyone in the priesthood required to read the text? Are laymen encouraged to read it as well?  Is it only allowed to be read by the highest priests in the order?

 

How is knowledge passed down?

 

One thing to keep in mind is that oral cultures are likely to have a huge focus on memory, because there is no way to write something down to remind yourself later.  Knowledge is passed down orally, pretty much by definition, but there is still a fair bit of variety possible.

  • Lecture
  • Songs/chants/rhymes
  • Stories/myths
  • Socratic method/question and answer
  • Discussion groups
  • Telepathy/hive mind/magically implanted

 

Techniques are most likely to be taught by demonstration.  This may be in a group setting, or it may be one-on-one, but either way, knowledge goes directly from teacher to student. Describing techniques is also possible, but demonstrations are more likely.

 

Knowledge can still be passed down verbally in a literate culture, though if the people involved are both/all literate and access to writing materials is available, writing and reading is generally a part of the teaching material.

  • Reading books
  • Reading essays
  • Reading scrolls
  • Reading religious texts
  • Writing essays
  • Doing worksheets
  • Writing repeating sentences or words
  • Copying previous writing
  • Writing a letter/journal/story/paper

 

In a literate culture, how much access to further education does the average person have?

 

Once a person is trained in their profession, how stuck are they in that task?  What options are there for further learning?  What options are there to access different opinions, from minor disagreements to revolutionary texts?

 

Are there libraries?  If so, are they public or private?  Who has access to private libraries?  How are books sold, shared, and copied?  Who controls which books are published?

 

Do people have access to the Internet (or your worlds equivalent thereof), where they can look up further information?  Is anything on the Internet restricted?

 

Is higher education free?  If not, how cost-prohibitive is it?  Which social classes are excluded because they cannot afford higher education?

 

In an oral culture, how much access to education does the average person have?  

 

How specialized is knowledge?  How easy is it for people to switch careers?  How much choice do people have in their professions?  How can people continue learning once they have attained whatever their culture considers the minimum required knowledge?

 

What sort of knowledge is restricted?

Education Systems – Introduction

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?
  • Standardization
    • 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?
      • Lecture
      • Experiments
      • Call-and-response
      • Rote memorization
      • Required reading
      • Discussion groups
      • Etc…