Assume you are a secretary of education in a country facing serious labor shortages. The Dear Leader has already ordered a closure of all unnecessary fields, which includes everything beside STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Medicine & Accounting. Now it's your job to trim years from primary & secondary education.

What's the maximum number of years that you could trim from the current 12 (8 primary, 4 secondary) without sending unprepared high school graduates to college?

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    $\begingroup$ You probably need to keep law schools open too; you need a police and court system to enforce your every whim or you aren't a very good 'Dear Leader.' $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like an interesting question, but you should really link to the education system you refer to in your question.. Where I live, a large amount of people do 9 years of school and then enter what we call an Apprenticeship. There they partially work and partially get educated on fields related to the trade they're learning, in order to get a diploma certifying they're abilities and knowledge in that trade. So they basically enter the workforce after 9 years of schooling, so-to-say. Would that be something you're looking for? $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ A large portion of the schooling process is social bonding/ learning how the child fits into their wider society (Aka, in your case, a great place to stuff their minds full of propaganda about how amazing their Dear Leader is). By that measure, education is the last program to cut. Also, FWIW, cutting everything but STEM would make a labour shortage dramatically worse (where are teachers expected to come from?) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ @SapirWhorf that's a common misconception about teaching - "I have skill x, therefore I can teach a bunch of unruly kids how to adopt skill x" - these are two very different things. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ You can cut PE, Music, Arts, History, and English. But what you'll end up with is a bunch of maladjusted people who are fat, have no appreciation for life, make the same mistakes over and over again, and have a hard time communicating. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 22:58

12 Answers 12


First 4 years of the elementary school are basic subjects, you can't cut anything there. In the next 4 years of the elementary and 4 years of high school the "unnecessary" subjects begin. Assuming they are 50% of the student workload, your maximum is 4 years,all other things being equal. Since you don't have enough teachers & science labs, I would aim for something more realistic like 2 or 3 years at most.


No need to trim anything.

Your loyal students will volunteer to enter the labour pool every year. Exactly as much as the Great Leader asks.

The students can do it, yes!

How to actually do that and also retain sufficient college education? Simply volunteer the bottom 10% scoring cohort every year. This way the student population will get better and you get your labour as well.

Now this will get old very fast, but no problem! Your best students will volunteer to study, say, 10% faster and the bottom 20% will get volunteered for the year after.

Maximum mileage.

Rinse and repeat until your loyal medical service indicates that the maximum mileage is reached. Say, 50% passes the original program in half the original time and the bottom 50% drops out.... erm volunteers into the labour force.

Time to start similar programs in other area's by then I suppose.


1 or 2 years, tops.

That's if you want to keep level of preparedness near current Western standards, which isn't a lot, sadly.

The average brain needs to reach a certain level of maturity to be able to digest complex concepts. Also, too long lessons are inefficient. A 4 hours long math lesson would be so mind boggling for a child of 10 (or anyone, 4-hourers are awful for attention) he may even learn less than a 1.5 hour.

Alternate suggestion: Keep the same duration

Instead, repurpose the extra hours you get from slashing the nontechnical fields.

-Before the age of 14:
Fill in with reading comprehension practice (i.e make them read, a lot). Text is the most compact and fastest way to store and transmit knowledge. A good reader has a much better ability to learn than a barely literate one.
Of course, you'll want to be picky with the reading material. After all, you want good readers, not cultured readers. Also, keep PE. Actually, increase PE hours and make them uncomfortably closer to military drills. You want fit, obedient youglings.

-After 14:
Reduce schooling hours to 4. Have them work part time.
You need workers now and you have to do something with those who are bad at maths, after all.
Also, fresh-out-from-university engineers are... Larvas, really. They won't be of much use until they get work for one or two years. If your engineering students work on something related while they are getting their degrees, they'll be much better workers than otherwise.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a model used succesfully by Tomas Bata 'European Henry Ford' - he hired 14 year old boys and girls (this was beginning of 20th cent.), gave them a fulltime junior job (like 'junior accountant'), and added evening+saturday classes. Result - immediate motivation + feedback ('I want to learn about my job to be more equal to my senior peers and to know how to solve problem I encountered today') and immediate application of learnings into practice. By 18 they were pretty senior (eg. accountant with 4 years of experience and equivalent of undergrad education). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 15:13

Rather than trimming years off education, bring the school into work.
That is, incorporate "labouring" time in education and call it physical education. Include helping your "elders and betters" in the underlying social expectations, and instill this in the child from an early and formative age.

Consider teaching some skills later, for example teach "survival maths" instead of higher maths like calculus, which is left to late-high school, which is after the earliest leaving age.

And start schooling earlier in life - kids can do some hours at a kindergarten or pre-school from 2 years, and work up towards a 6 hour school day by the age of 5, and an 8 hour day by the age of 10.

If you're short on labour, use the older kids to look after the younger kids. This also teaches skills to raise more labour over time. This is playing the long game though, so assumes Glorious Leader is forever.

You don't want a bunch of illiterate former students in your labour force, so make schooling a lifetime process. Instantiate Night School classes or Adult Education (either optional or compulsory) to continue educating your labourers. Also foster a culture of knowledge sharing, like reading over television.

Finally, consider a "high school leaving exam" where student must perform a series of day to day adult things to graduate

Some ideas for school-leaving exam - once student can perform 85% of this or better, they may leave school and join the workforce, and get a social status boost, and a pay increase:

  • Buy some food items using exact change from a mixed purse. Points off for buying lollies, or not getting the right list items.
  • Make a nutritious family meal from approved list of ingredients.
  • Wash the dishes and clean up
  • Change a baby's nappy
  • Clean and tend a cut in someone's finger
  • Discuss Glorious Leader's latest... something... with the examiner in a mature fashion.
  • etc.

Point of this is that a smart 8-10 year old might be able to leave school, but an 18 year old might not be able to perform the same tasks. What happens when school kids can't achieve by a certain maximum age we leave to your imagination.

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    $\begingroup$ I know that some of the higher Cisco educator qualifications require a regular period of time in the workforce to maintain the certification, as an example. So even the teachers/tutors have to be exposed to practical industry experience, building bridges between the towers of academia and industry. (picturesque, no?) $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ This is really similar to a system ran by one of largest european business tycoons at the beginning of 20th century - I describe it here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/65044/… $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 15:17

In the United States, schools generally take almost three months off every summer. From a labor perspective, this is wasteful. Teachers can't do any teaching when schools are out. So three months of the year are lost. There are 12 years of school, each with 180 days. That's 2160 total. There are two ways that this time could be used more efficiently.

In the first, the students rotate. A quarter of the students take off summers, but the rest take off different times per year. Each teacher teaches for 240 of the 260 days. This increases the availability to students by 33%. Teachers may demand 33% more salary, but you don't need more people. Technically this doesn't decrease the number of years of schooling, but it does address the labor shortage.

In the second, the students go to school year round. 216 days instead of 180. After 10 years, that's 2160 days, same as 12 180-day years. This reduces the number of school years by 2, effectively making teachers 16.7% more efficient.

A challenge in this is that it doesn't allow for summer sessions for students who fail. Considering your description, I'm guessing that such students would be flunked out of school entirely. Why waste such limited resources on someone who isn't learning?

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, but those summer holidays are needed for the students to help the dear leader with his priority agriculture improvement programs. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 6:40

[I assume that you would slash other fields and not literally close them, as one would need some teachers for this education project anyway]

OK, let's try:

1) It seems that minimum compulsory school starting age can be 5 and it would be no miracle:

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_education#Per-country_variations_in_the_age_range_of_compulsory_education

2) What's the starting benchmark? (USA? Some other country?) Because according to PISA test top Asian countries beat the USA by ~90 points which is equivalent of 3 years of schooling. Yeah, good luck in bringing Confucian values to the West...

(for calculating for other countries: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf )

3) No idea how much can be gained from slashing program... one year? two?

So under the most optimistic scenario, including earlier starting (for practical purposes presumably starting to squeeze more program in to kindergarten and getting an extra year from it - I could imagine getting 6 years. Of course that would after such system would actually start working, which would take a while. And that would be presumably the first regime would block social media for purpose of efficiency boost...

  • $\begingroup$ 12 year old high school graduates, that doesn't sound realistic. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 22:16

All of it - separation of 'work' and 'education' is rather artificial and produces a lot of problems. What happened in middle ages if you were born into a blacksmith family? You naturally learned about the job since being the baby, you engaged more and more in family business, and by 12, you could basically do everything (depending on strength).

I consider our schooling systems, where doctors are surprised to find that the everyday reality of the job doesn't correspond to their romantic imagination about it after 15+ years of study ineffective.


Educate only as much as is appropriate to the industrial needs of the nation

Since we're in a "Dear Leader" situation, education now includes only the skills required for the greater glory of the nation.

The cities will be the hubs of engineering prowess, but consider that a welder or riveter does not need a degree, he needs a steady hand and a good eye, but that does not need to be compromised by excessive education. Administrators need to be educated only so far as to be able to perform their tasks. Farmers need only so much education as required to look after their crops and animals, it's not hard to outwit a field of grain, obedience is the skill to look for here (because nothing can cause a famine like central control).

Those who show greatness in their work should be considered for further training to progress to more complex tasks for the greater glory of the nation.

All this being considered the children should be sent into work rotations early. Those who show no particular academic ability should be left in a job that suits their intellect with what remaining education required to be completed on the job.

Splitting the youth into two groups, each spending a month in education and a month working from the age of 10 should allow you to maintain a steady working population and double the capacity of the educational institutions. As each child drops out of the education system at whatever age they choose, they already have a set of skills to continue working in the task they were doing in the working cycle. This will also reduce the burden on their parents of paying to support them.

  • Encourage those of intellect and ability to stay in the education system to achieve greater things for the glory of the nation.
  • Encourage those without intellect or ability to stay in work that suits them, also for the greater glory of the nation.

Methods of "encouragement" used at the discretion of the Dear Leader.

Too much education is a bad thing, it leads to rebelliousness in the population. A tendency to think for themselves, this should be discouraged. The majority of the population should be encouraged to be obedient.

Greater glory to the nation.


You could cut off as many years as you like, as long as you decrease the difficulty of college accordingly. If college is no harder than kindergarten, you could probably enroll them at age 5.

Of course, I assume you intend to keep the difficult of college the same and just try to press-gang the students through.

I'd like to point out that the answer depends greatly on the quality of the curriculum students have received so far. I happen to reside in a state in the USA which switched over to a curriculum centered on passing standardized tests. The result has been startling: highschool seniors moving into college are complaining that they are vastly unprepared for college. All they learned is how to pass tests. For us, there's no reasonable way to cut a year out of schooling, and it's going to be a decade before the damage we did by "teaching to the tests" can be undone.

The best that we can hope is that we can read between the lines in our Dear Leader's actions. Closing all disciplines except STEM is an absurdity in any educator's mind. The only way this could ever be valuable is if we were in a life-and-death war which needed massive STEM innovations in the next decade. This would have to be a poignant enough war to risk virtually everything we fight for (while STEM does produce value culturally, it's not focused on it... the loss of all other cultural efforts would be devastating). In such an environment, we would be able to restructure the entire system.

In such a situation, we don't need well rounded humans. We need robots. We need a bunch of H. sapiens bodies whose minds have been plumbed to act like nodes on a giant computer grid. Dear Leader would certainly know exactly what sort of technological tricks were needed before cutting all of the rest of our society off.

In this case, I think you could cut it off so that children go to college at 12. That's based on the success I have seen from Chinese students at memorizing their math and science topics. We would want to take up their approach to STEM as fast as we could.

Of course, the real answer there would be to do away with schooling entirely. It sounds like we really should just be turning all our children into warriors, like the worst impoverished 3rd world countries do...

  • $\begingroup$ Memorizing math and science facts doesn't get students ready for college, though, and I don't expect it would help them much in their jobs either. I agree that warriors could be created much more quickly. $\endgroup$
    – Charles
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 16:06

Literature can go. You don't need it to make medicine or build bridges. Composition is a little more important but can probably be axed entirely (your supervisors and people can deal with letters that show a poor understanding of connotation) too. Go back to the days of language class and reading class, where you worry only about understanding clearly-written text and formulating a grammatically correct sentence and not all that tone, themes, structure nonsense.

Reducing history learning is probably a good thing, actually, at least for you, the presumably absolute leader of the nation trying to cut corners in education. Teach the stuff that makes you look good, forget the stuff that makes you look bad, teach the stuff that makes your enemies look bad, forget the stuff that makes them look good. Make sure the story of that one kid who opposed the state is taught. Especially focus on his failure to do his schoolwork satisfactorily and his eventual demise. In fact, make his grave the logo of the education committee and make the students pledge allegiance to it daily.

Skip biology, skip anatomy, skip geology, focus on physics and chemistry. Keep health, though. In fact, double health. This will allow you to remove more biology and anatomy. The students don't need to know how their bodies work to maintain them.

Arithmetic can be condensed. Mandate the use of calculators to save time skipping the execution of concepts such as long division.

Physical Education can go, too. Assign "run for 60 minutes" along with homework every day and assign them pedometers so you can be sure they do it.

Art and music, goes without saying.

Now using my own experience as a springboard, these cut corners have eliminated:

  • 7 combination lit/comp classes
  • Let's say 6 history classes
  • 1 biology, 1 anatomy, let's say 3 classes' worth of assorted geology, biology, anatomy concepts dispersed through the different grades which will allow you to condense
  • Let's say 3 classes' worth of assorted arithmetic
  • 12 PE
  • 2 art, 2 music

And gained:

  • 1 health

This is a total savings of 36 classes. Again speaking from my own experience, at 8 classes per school year, this saves the state 4 and a half years per student. Rearrange your education system to be organized by semester and this becomes 9 semesters. Start them a year earlier and you can have your "fully"-educated high school graduates gathering diplomas as early as 12 and 13 years old.


Well, i shall first find out how many STEM and doctors that are needed. Then there will be a state exam to gradually remove people who have no ability to qualify for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Medicine & Accounting.

At every level, the bottom 20% are graduated for released to the labor pool. So if you are a poor student, you years of education is 0. And you will work with great joy for our Dear Leader.

I expect I can shorten the education for most people to just 3 years. Just enough to read and enjoy the slogans of our Dear leader.


None. Especially for STEM.

And what does labor shortage have to do with not educating “soft” fields, arts, and literature?

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    $\begingroup$ Plus one. Cutting the curriculum has no effect on how many years of math you'll need to take in succession. Condensing the curriculum so that say, the first semester is algebra and the second one is geometry, is ill-advised, given the ability of the average human to grasp math at its currently taught pace. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 22:37

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