In this society there is a regular apocalypse event that can cause 80% casualties among the human race. This happens once every 20 years. While this is survivable, it's not survivable if it happens twice in a row.

This can be prevented by a prophesied child arising who can stop the apocalypse. This child will be generated among the 5-18 year olds, and they have no current way of reliably predicting who it will be. If the child dies before they fully awaken, the apocalypse happens, and the next generation likely has a much higher risk of death due to reduced resources.

The death rate for children then is around 17/1000 and they want the death rate to be as low as possible, while still ensuring that children can train so that the prophesied child can effectively handle an apocalypse. How would a society which wanted to minimize deaths in school age children, make schools?

Awakening as the prophesied child cures all diseases, so being paralyzed or disabled is fine.

Tech level is modern earth, magic is mostly non existent.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    May 20 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ Could you please clarify a few things? Are the apocalypses happening once every 20 years, or do they happen more often, but the Really Big Ones (with 80% wipeout) happen every 20 years? Do they all kill 80% population or is it random? Are their dates precise as clockwork, approximately predictable, or completely random? Will the Chosen One be able to stop only the next apocalypse (after which there will be a different Chosen One to stop the next apocalypse), or will they stop the whole Apocalypse Cycle forever? Can a single Chosen One stop 2 apocalypses? $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    May 20 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ Every 20 years. They tend to kill 70-90% of the population. The dates are precise to within a year. The chosen one can only stop one apocalypse, since there's an age requirement. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 20 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ You say the child is "generated among the 5-18 year olds" - does that mean that it doesn't matter if children younger than 5 die, because the chosen one status will only attach to someone who's at least 5? Or would the chosen one be chosen from birth, and thus need to be kept alive from birth? $\endgroup$
    – Showsni
    May 20 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ They're chosen post age 5. Children aged 1-4 dying doesn't matter as much, although it's avoided because they could be injured when 4 and die when 5. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 21 at 11:01

7 Answers 7


Short answer: Very military-like

Although you don't mention how the apocalypse manifests, I imagine that would be priority #1 for the society to figure out: what keeps happening and why and what can be done about it? Is it fire? Locusts? Comet impacts? The specific details of the apocalypse would greatly inform the way the society reacts to it. For example, maybe everyone is training for asteroid redirect missions because that's how the apocalypses manifest.

I think that the schools would prioritize safety, like having tornado shelters, being robust against floods and earthquakes, having backup generators, tools, supplies, communication gear, food and water so that people can heavily fortify to best survive whatever apocalypse awaits them.

There would likely be hospitals or health-care professionals on-site in the schools. People would be heavily supervised and their activities strictly controlled so that they do what is required and have a greater chance of surviving.

I imagine that survival training and health education along with risk/threat assessment and preparedness would be mandatory skills taught in these schools.

So overall it will look quite military in its structure and educational offerings. Dealing with an unknown impending we-all-might-die kind of situation sounds exactly like a how a military prepares.

I would hope that everyone in society (not just the schools) would be working on the problem with most people focusing on having skills and resources to survive the apocalyptic events.

But again, I think the specific way the apocalypse manifests is of supreme significance. If it's a cabin-in-the-woods-esque spin-the-wheel-and-anything-wrath-of-god-like-can-happen kind of situation, I think your society is likely hosed. (Doesn't stand a chance.) Especially with a whopping 80% death rate.

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    $\begingroup$ I chose this answer because it gave both clear guidelines on how to maximize their survival rates like health care professionals on site at all times, it also gave guidelines on how to handle the post apocalyptic situation post a failed apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 21 at 11:03

Frame challenge: In rich economies (except maybe the USA) schools themselves are probably not a major factor in child mortality.

Schools would only be affected incidentally, for example if there's an epidemic, you'd want to keep children from gathering en masse in massive bug distribution centres.

The differences would be more on a societal level. For example the idea that it's acceptable for children to go hungry would be anathema. If you advocated for it, you'd be shunned at best, prosecuted or lynched at worst.

Same for universal healthcare, anyone against it would be scorned by the rest of society. In fact the age distribution of healthcare spending, now largely weighted towards the older generations, would have to be reversed, spending a lot more on children and their parents. Overall life expectancy would probably be lower as a result (compared to rich societies of our real world) and it's an open question what such a society would do with old folks. There'd be advocates for keeping everyone alive as much as possible (for their secondary benefit to children) and there'd probably be ones who favour a more...radical approach. This could be a major fault line in public consciousness.

Not least of all because most discrimination we have in our world might become taboo for similar reasons: you never know where the next "messiah" will be born. The one thing you know is they're not gonna be old, so...

These would be the main focus of your society...on a good day. Because if there's anything we've learnt over the past few years, it's that logic can count for very little when many people just want to watch the world burn.

So at the end of the day it's up to you how you want to play it.

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    $\begingroup$ I am asking about schools because that's where the book is set, and you can't ask overly broad questions. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 18 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough but in my mind the school would just look more or less like a normal, European style school. With free school meals, mandatory vaccination programmes, no guns (obviously), and excellent ventilation throughout the building. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    May 18 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ "except maybe the USA" <- The odds of a child being shot and killed in a US school is about a 0.0001-0.0002%. While higher than Europe, this is still orders of magnitude less significant than children killed in auto accidents to/from school, poisoning/choking to death that happens from poor supervision in schools, and suicides caused by school bullying. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 18 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ There might actually be a lot of people against universal healthcare - "Why are you spending my hard-earned taxes on OLD people? They're all going to die in a couple of years anyway!" $\endgroup$ May 19 at 1:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Infinite_Maelstrom I mean, that's a view that many people hold, so not much of a difference there to our real world. I also specifically highlighted this, that yeah, priorities and funding would shift. But that doesn't stop it being universal healthcare. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    May 19 at 15:02

Short answer: Keep them in the schools

The leading cause of death in the third world are healthcare issues (including issues due to contaminated water and lack of food). In the US on the other hand, guns and cars are most dangerous to children. Apart from the guns, this is probably representative for the first world.

Both issues have the same solution. Governments have to take control of the children's environment by putting them in boarding schools as early as possible. The schools can take care of healthcare, clean water and sufficient food. They can keep the guns and drugs out, keep the children away from traffic and make sure everyone can swim.

Apart from this, extensive pre-natal care is probably most effective. Maybe some sort of center were pregnant women stay (don't call it a prison) and get all the care and tests until birth.

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    $\begingroup$ "Governments have to take control of the children's environment by putting them in boarding schools as early as possible. " The civil war this will provoke might be considered a downside. And do you really want to look at e.g. US government schools and say, "We can have teachers look after every child 24/7, parenting is over, effective overnight" and not expect a disaster? $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    May 18 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ I admit it is an extreme measure, but extreme problems call for extreme solutions. I am not sure about the exact setting, but parents probably experienced the apocalypse themselves or at least know someone who did (maybe their parents) and have seen the society afterwards. In WW2, a lot of parents sent their children in rural areas, not seeing them for years, to protect them and WW2 was a piece of cake compared to the apocalypse. In this scenario, parents could still visit their children at school regularly. $\endgroup$
    – Matthias
    May 19 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ Do you think teachers want to be parents? $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    May 19 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ It's easy to imagine this happening in our society and so triggering rebellion, but I can think of at least two ways this would work. In the first compulsory boarding schools from 5-18 years has been happening for hundreds of years, so is just accepted by society. In some ways this is not so different from certain cultural habits where after a child was weaned it was sent to live with grandparents, or sent off at 10 years for an apprenticeship. $\endgroup$ May 19 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with boarding schools is how few people want to properly run them. The horror stories from Indian boarding schools in North America can be instructive. Or read up on the Roman Catholic schools in Ireland. cbc.ca/news/world/… Any such schools need to be overseen by groups of parents so that those who care the most can verify that the students are being properly taken care of. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    May 19 at 14:39

While I suspect the timing and percentage you cite are unsustainable, the way to minimize death in an apocalypse depends on the apocalypse. If the problem is regular pandemics, then obviously we minimize death by keeping the children separate or isolated from the rest of the world, in "clean rooms" with filtered air and away from the public.

If the apocalypse is heavy meteor showers, we keep the kids together in a school that is inside of a mountain that can protect them, or a school deep underground and covered with a tough steel shield several meters thick.

Much like some of our own nuclear facilities are protected against nuclear bombs.

Whether it is isolation and distance or collective protection in one place depends on the nature of your apocalypti.

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    $\begingroup$ The apocalypse can be avoided by having a prophesied child. The issue is that if the prophesied child dies before they achieve the prophesy, then the 80% deaths happen. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 18 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep That makes it worse. You have to keep all children safe, away from other children, away from any contagious diseases, away from any dangerous weather, deep in a bunker or whatever, until they all come of age. You have to guarantee every single child survives to adulthood, that none can be attacked, or catch any disease, or have any accident, or accidentally choke to death or fall or cut themselves or be infected. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    May 19 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ If they're not trained they won't be able to as effectively stop the apocalypse, so school is still needed. It could be school in a bunker. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 19 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Amadeus yes that was the question. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    May 19 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep You've allowed modern earth technology, children are isolated as I said and attend school virtually; it is the law. We did the same thing during the COVID epidemic, with public schools closed for safety, for exactly the same reason: We did not want any kids dead. You absolutely do not need a public school where all the children gather. That is a recipe for spreading disease. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    May 19 at 17:33

No Cars, No Guns, Lots of Counselors

The leading causes of death for children in the US circa 2020 were: Guns, Cars, Drugs/Suicide, Suffocation (surprisingly high! I assume this is SIDS), and Drowning.

(I've excluded Cancer, Heart Disease, and Congenial Abnormalities, since those don't seem "treatable")

SIDS doesn't apply to school age children, and I assume most drownings are in unsupervised backyard pools.

So that leaves Guns, Cars, Drugs and Suicide as major sources of child mortality that could reasonably be linked to a school environment.

Sounds Nice

So a school optimized for child survival would be gun-free, use safe public transit in place of personal vehicles, and have a lot of support for individual children to help them through the growing up process and keep them away from drugs and suicide.

Your apocalypse sounds... surprisingly pleasant.

  • $\begingroup$ Suffocation is often due to food getting into the trachea. Or accidents leading to strangulation (clothes getting stuck somewhere, small children playing with cords etc) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    May 20 at 3:50

A society like anything in the real world would be very much unsustainable. The only way a society might be able to have a stable population, pretty much prevents the school 5-18 scenario. Assuming the timing is more or less stable at 20 years, the only way this could work in my mind is as follows:

  • There is a very strict rule against reproduction in anything but the first 5 or so years after an event.
  • This means you will have cohorts that are always a maximum of 4 years apart
  • Every surviving woman's task after an event is to reproduce to at least the level of stability (so 5 children per woman). Since all of them are at least 15, they are all of fertile age (real world politics simply cannot apply)
  • Every surviving male's task is to make sure these kids are supported up to the next event and to keep society as a whole running
  • Anyone that survives two events in a row would basically be "off the hook", they are now leaders, not 'working' class

Since schools are basically a rolling system of a single cohort going through the process, there is not a normal school system, but a very subject oriented one. Also since there is a full restart 5 or so years after every event, the form of school will change a lot, depending on local 'leaders' who survived this time around.

  • $\begingroup$ All this is best when supposing the prophecy is false, that the chosen one never comes. Do you mean that you should not rely on keeping the chosen one alive at all cost, and instead rely on reducing the losses every time? If so, why? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 21 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ "and they have no current way of reliably predicting who it will be. If the child dies before they fully awaken, the apocalypse happens, and the next generation likely has a much higher risk of death due to reduced resources." Risking your whole society on being sure the person awakens is basically a gamble, that means extinction if you fail twice in a row. Making sure you prevent extinction regardless would be top priority. $\endgroup$ May 21 at 16:24

Your premise appears faulty on two scores.

80% cull every 20 years means certain extinction. In a stable population (births = deaths) only 4 in a hundred would survive a second apocalypse. Only 8 per thousand would survive a third. 8 people are not enough to have a golden child that survives long enough to 'awaken' and prevent the fourth apocalypse. Also remember that only a third of the population are of breeding age, and faced with that degree of devastation, survivors won't want to breed. Would you want children knowing 8 in 10 will die?

If a school or any other system could be designed to survive such an apocalypse, then that system could be used to protect the majority of the population, rendering that plot point moot. If the majority can be protected, then the apocalypse could could still decimate the population. Decimate = 1 in 10. Now consecutive apocalypses become tragedies not extinction events. Same motivation exists but realism is improved.

I don't know what any school designed to protect from all possible deaths would look like, but I am pretty sure it would feel like hell. For a school based story, you could have a selection process that brings potential candidates to a safe location (under a mountain etc.) to a school that is risk adverse to a paranoid level. That might provide a believable backdrop to the scenario you want to explore.

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    $\begingroup$ The question said an 80% fatality rate is possible ("can cause"), not guaranteed, and the whole point is preventing them from happening in back-to-back 20-year periods. But yes, even one 80% fatality even is catastrophic, and they haven't specified the best-case or typical damage. If that's much over 10%, that's a problem for society to not collapse. $\endgroup$ May 19 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ The societies are notably resilient to collapse from long experience, and separate regions have separate apocalypses and can repopulate after a string of defeats, with societies that can protect children better surviving more. The ideal for this story is of course a school which can train a child to prevent the apocalypse, the prophesied child. Assuming the child of age 5-18 makes it to the apocalypse year, and they're moderately well trained, they can 100% stop the apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    May 19 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, your numbers just don't add up. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Smith
    May 20 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ An 80% cull just means you need 10+ children per family to outrun it. Many small species have to deal with worse. $\endgroup$ May 21 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Therac - To survive an 80% cull means you need at least two children to survive to breeding age between culls.Human average breeding age starts at 15. Gestation and recovery means a maximum sustained birth rate of one child per year per mother is possible so a 20 year cycle leaves you 5 kids short. As I said, the numbers don't add up. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Smith
    May 22 at 10:02

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