Teachers in the future
In my story, a hyper-tech city has schools, and teachers, one of which is a prominent character. I can't figure out why, though, such a society would have teachers.

This is a relatively generic cyberpunk world (eg. gangs, high tech physical augmentation, etc.)

Laws are often ignored, and the government is highly corrupt

Kids could easily get a similar education through artificial teachers (aka the internet), but choose to go to physical classrooms instead (why?)

Most kids in this society start on their career paths early (to make money for their families), but get a general primary education at schools, let's say to about the age of 12, so 6th grade equivalent

This education is funded by the government, mostly, so it's relatively cheap. Money is not an issue.

My question
Why would basic, face-to-face education be valued in a society where laws are followed as often as not and education could be found online?

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    $\begingroup$ Humans are social creatures and face-to-face education fulfills social and emotional needs. $\endgroup$
    – Khris
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 6:55

16 Answers 16


First of all, you must resolve the technology dichotomy

A technology dichotomy is when the fundamentals required for a particular technology do not exist, but the technology exists nonetheless. You have one. A high tech society that doesn't have the order and predictable lawfullness needed to permit the millions of scientists, technicians, and engineers necessary to create it? (Much less the farmers, miners, carpenters, masons, pawn brokers, morticians, and even teachers that support them?)

Your first problem is explaining how this society even exists. Are they getting the tech as off-world imports? Is it magically summoned? Is it a gift from the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Because it can't exist in the world you described in your question.

Second, you need to explain how it's being maintained

And maybe this is how your question gets answered. Tech breaks down. If no one is being educated to repair it, then your society has maybe 10-20 years before that tech is gone and all that's left is a few Westworld androids and Mad Max.

You've suggested that all the education is online but there's no predictable lawfulness (dichotomy!). Who's the benign being operating the Ineternet on your world? Wouldn't they, being corrupt, want to starve people of education to guarantee the tech breaks down, reserving only to himself and a cadre of consecrated ones the precious juice knowledge that keeps his tech (and that one seemingly unkillable dude) going? If that's the case, then he's forcing people to get an education just to keep his power over the world's apparently only source of knowledge.

Social entropy would kill this society fairly quickly

Most people don't realize just how complicated the dance of life really is. High technology is a luxury. Any society can exist without it. Every society must work like dogs to maintain it. Take a couple of hours to think through the pyramid of people needed to design, produce, and maintain high-tech. And then outline the minimal pyramids needed for food production, mineral production, and basic safety. What you quickly realize is that 90% of our society exists to support the luxury of technology.

How were the pyramids built? You guessed it... social organization

Every one of those people I just mentioned must work with a basic expectation of law and order or the pyramid quickly becomes a house of cards. Even a criminal society has order. The majority of any society must predictably work together or that society implodes — and the luxuries are the first thing to go (well, maybe the second. Frozen burritos might be the first to go).

Why will you need face-to-face teachers? Because society can't be so lawless that the children won't be required to receive a predictable education, from Kindergarten through college. High tech doesn't exist with a 6th grade education. Somebody will need to motivate the kids to focus on their education or the luxury of technology will vanish.

And history has proven that it generally won't be their parents.

Even homeschoolers are highly organized. Just talk to one. They'll tell you all about all the other people they depend on just to educate their children at home. It is not chaotic. And they'll tell you that face-to-face time, while not necessary all the time, is nevertheless crucial. Why? Because it takes little time for an 8-year-old to figure out how to play everything from solitaire to Halo — anything other than their homework.

May I suggest that you need to focus your crisis on the efforts of organized groups to become pre-eminent in the world? In other words, the individual cannot be lawless within the group, but the interaction between organized groups can. That provides the structure needed to justify the high-tech-manintaining education needed and, thereby, teachers.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The usual explanation in a Cyberpunk setting is that the technology was invented and public order collapsed afterwards. Alternatively, you have a large social divide with rich megacorporations who can afford to develop and use the technology and poor outcasts who can only afford to steal it. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 12:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Philipp, The goal is to justify teachers. A collapse of order prohibits that (and the period of high technology would last 10-20 years). The megacorps would solve the problem by providing the order necessary for education. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ amazing answer, kudos! $\endgroup$
    – Devin
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 18:38

Child Care

In our current world we have a rising rate of single mothers. They require things like daycare, school, and after school organizations to keep their child in relatively safe locations and under super vision while the mother is at work.

With most people entering the work force by the end of 6th grade your society would have a higher birth rate than right now. With more children you need a larger child care workforce and what better way then a government subsidized baby sitter who also tries to get your child an education and better job?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this is the most realistic answer here. Someone has to watch the kids so they can work. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 21:09

I have taught, I was a professor. As a graduate student my job (I was paid by the university I was attending) was one of eight "tutors", we provided walk-in help to undergraduates with their homework and projects, dealing with everything from the basics to the most advanced. Before tests we were swamped with students, and these are students of just five years ago: They have textbooks, iPhones, the Internet and Google and Wiki.

All of those sources could have explained what they needed to know. None of those sources can PINPOINT what they needed to know by asking a few questions.

That is what the human tutors and professors are for. Because despite all those resources, it takes me to understand, from the student's incorrect answers and where they go wrong in solving the problem exactly what they failed to understand, usually in the classes they took a few semesters ago, and in a few cases from misconceptions all the way back in high school.

An AI can be like a calculator and DO math, but it doesn't understand math the way a person does, and the way a person learns it. Currently that takes another human, and probably would in a cyber-punk world too.

If you want to learn something, you need a person that not only knows the topic but can detect when somebody else has an incomplete grasp of the topic, and can find the dividing point(s) of when their knowledge became broken. Usually by a bad or careless or overwhelmed teacher.

In maths, for example, most people do find in the grade school topics, but you will find some broken by long division, or square root extraction, or high school algebra or geometry or trigonometry or Calculus I, etc. The classes they passed with less than a B for whatever reason. They failed to grasp something fundamental that becomes necessary later. If you don't understand long division, because you can divide numbers on a calculator, then you will have much difficulty in dividing polynomials, and in number theory that relates to understanding encryption algorithms.

I do academic research in the AI field, to my knowledge no AI can do basic arithmetic on arbitrarily large numbers like a sixth grader can. I do not know of an AI that has been taught to multiply in exactly the same way I can teach a child to multiply, so it could correctly multiply two 100 digit numbers. Or do long division of one by another, like a sixth grader could (I am not the only one that could have done that in the sixth grade).

AI can be very smart, but they aren't humans, and so far AI do not understand how humans learn and think, how to tell if they missed something or think something that is just a step off of correct, or even worse are sure they DO know something when they don't. That is the value of a human teacher, they understand human children, human body language, human facial expressions and micro-expressions to a degree no AI is even close to matching, and human learning: That lets them quickly identify and understand human failings, so they can correct them: That is teaching.

Teaching is not reciting facts and figures and drawing pictures on the board. Those are the things to understand, and can be done by a robot. What the robot cannot do is answer "why" to off-the-wall questions or detect when a student is not understanding the picture on the board, because that individual is engaging in some idiosyncratic behaviors that (for them) indicate evasion or confusion or boredom because they lost the thread of the argument, or are preoccupied by some internal drama or fantasy. The teacher's job is not clicking through slides and reciting a script. It is watching the students to see if they understand the slides and the script, and spotting trouble, and helping those that stumble or fall down on the path to understanding.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem of 99,99% of learning SW is that it is written badly or even very badly. I tried to use many for my languages studies or for different studies of my children - mostly it is simply unusable. But it IS possible to write good learning SW and sometimes there appears something. (no ads here). And to find where a person has holes in understanding, it is an easy task for AI. Teaching AI will be done absolutely the same way as teaching people, and it will be done by AI mostly. So, AI will know how to teach people the school program. Sorry, you have forgotten the main task of teaching. $\endgroup$
    – Gangnus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Gangnus I think you are wrong, as my post made clear. I am an active academic researcher in AI, and you are wrong about that, too. No AI understands body language or facial expression, word choices or the body language of hiding ignorance or showing insecurity in the way a human being does instinctively. I have a PhD in computer science and over four decades of experience: Until AI can pass for an intelligent human adult and graduate from college in exactly the same way as a human, and have fun and difficulty just like us, humans will be better teachers. Noone knows how to make such an AI. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Your first sentence is simply senseless. Wrong in what, made clear where and how? The second... Since 15th Century a reference to titles cannot be an argument in the discussion. And I had never tell you are not a specialist in something. So, it discusses with nonexistent point and bases on fallacy. Ok, let's pretend you didn't say all that. Even contemporary AI understands body language. In 70-ties there were robots ordered by gestures. Even if not - What current AI understanding has in common with the question? $\endgroup$
    – Gangnus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, PhD, one more "argument"? Really, guy, you are so weak in discussion, you train only on those who are afraid to answer? How hiding ignorance can help when you are not able to answer a question? BTW, AI can easily reference to titles, so it is not weaker than YOU in that point. I don't see a single reasonable argument in your message. And what is even more funny, I am NOT saying that AI can be a good teacher, as well. Only you can't defend your point. $\endgroup$
    – Gangnus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Gangnus No, contemporary AI does not understand body language as well as a human being understands body language. Nor facial expression, or vocal tones. You are wrong about that. Speculations about what AI will be able to do in the future are seldom grounded in reason, they are mostly wish fulfillment fantasies. Whether you like it or not, students do hide ignorance when they cannot answer, partially because they don't want to show social weakness, even when alone with a tutor there to help them! I will not argue further, you and I do not share any common ground to start from. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 15:30

The schools are sponsored by the Government of the day, and attendance is mandatory.

Why, when kids could learn at home?

Two reasons

  1. These days a kid could learn at home from free on line resources such as Wikipedia and Google Books, and there are are Stack Exchange sites for expert advice and opinion. However without a structured approach to material a student could easily miss the foundations of a subject and then be unable to comprehend - or worse think they understand - the more advanced portions of a subject. So structured learning is your first reason.

  2. Secondly, in this cyberpunk society it's useful for citizens to have a similar frame of reference, speak similar languages and technologies and have a somewhat homogenized view of their society & world. However, given the level of tech in such a world, the prevalence of AI and targeted advertising, it's absolutely within the grasp of the ruling caste to take this one step further and ensure that that children are indoctrinated/brainwashed to not rebel/rock the boat/ask the wrong questions. School is used to brainwash a compliant populace.

  • $\begingroup$ Just because students can learn from home, doesn't mean that the students have free-form learning. Online training instructors and curriculum would still dictate minimum standards, have tests, and have a structured format. There would still be requirements for X units of Y in order to go to the next education level, but the focus of the student might be different (choosing computer science algorithms instead of abstract math). $\endgroup$
    – Phil M
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:45

I think it would be very interesting to be a teacher in a cyber-punk world, to try and shape young minds away from the legal apathy, social irresponsibility and gang membership which pollutes the next generation. As a human being, I would have a higher chance of reaching rebellious students because they would not be able to turn me off when what I said frustrated them.

I would also have amazing tools available to help me reach their young minds. AI's would monitor each student's facial expressions, blood-pressure and maybe even brain waves to notify me when attentions wander. The AI would also provide a vast library of presentation techniques on-line and real time advice to help me adapt my lessons to maximize my effectiveness with each batch of children.

As a government representative, I would be highly motivated to reach these children because I would have a clearer view than most of how close we all are to social collapse and anarchy. Each student whom I save from the gangs would be one less warrior fighting for our mutual doom.

While strongly implying to the parents and students that the benefits of in-person education lay in the child's chance to develop social and interpersonal skills, I would quietly and constantly be defending our whole society from collapse.

  • $\begingroup$ Ok, but why would anyone from government pay for that, if they can say that internet schooling is just as effective, and pocket the money? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 7:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Molot, same reason as in the real world... each government's nationality is just an idea in the minds of its citizens and the moment the world starts educating those citizens via the internet, that idea begins to fade. However, in terms of my answer, if the government believes that revolution is imminent, controlling the beliefs of the next generation is a good way to delay or minimize that revolt. And overtly, it doesn't want its citizens to be less educated than those of other nations, because higher education leads to higher economic strength. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 13:55

There is a simple answer to this question, and it has to do with your frame of reference. You're assuming that people go to school to learn knowledge. They actually don't. They go to school to learn how to be citizens.

The other arguments made here are correct; in modern societies with gender equality et al, schools are as much government child care as they are education centres, in some cases more so. This was proven to me several years ago when I met several stay at home mothers who told me that they sent their before-school-age children to child care several days a week because they'd been advised that if they didn't, the children would lack the socialisation skills that were taken for granted in children entering the school system now.

I'm also an (adjunct) Professor, and I've taught under and post grads, as well as dealt with employees new to the workplace, etc. I can tell you that most of the students and new employees don't remember much more than 10% of what they're taught, and that's actually a good thing. Schools are not about the uptake of knowledge, they're about learning skills.

Students do have to leave school knowing how to read, how to write, and how math works (especially in my field). But more importantly, they need to know how to negotiate a deadline for a task. They need to know how to manage a work colleague who's being a prat. They need to have some idea how to prioritise their spending according to needs and income, and they need to know how to dress themselves in a manner that won't embarrass them in the workplace. Schools can be cruel places (they're populated by kids) and the one thing that such an environment gives the young is social intelligence.

In a cyberpunk world, this is actually MORE critical, not less. The tech takes care of almost everything it can meaning that the jobs that are left behind that people do are people oriented; this is still an area the computers will never do well, no matter how sophisticated their programming or training becomes.

In a world where all the technical and back office work can be done by machines, your differentiator as a value proposition to an employer is how well you can navigate the social framework of your society. This is what schools give you.


Education is mandatory by the government, but due to expenses involved with teachers and school, attending online courses with an AI teacher is provided. There are actual schools with teachers and physical classes but has become something of a luxury or a status symbol. "My son attends Lincoln high school."

Just like tophats in London at the turn of the 20th century, once a thing of nobility, now everyone wants to have the status symbol and so what is initially luxurious turns commonplace except for the absolutely poor which still have to resort to online education.

Some people go so far as to say that the future is at stake and that children educated online are getting fed messages from the government and to not trust such people. It puts a damning mark on such people and so nobody educated in such a fashion are quick to admit to it, further encouraging the idea that a grounded education at an actual school is the only way for a person that isn't a criminal to be educated.

This would undoubtedly create a slew of hybrids for those who can't afford to send their children to schools with a human teacher, such as a AI-taught school with occasional human intervention such as one lesson taught by a human and all the other lessons are taught and led by an AI. It is considered "acceptable" only because the AI is not the same AI sponsored by the government, though it may be just the same.


They could still be around as a habit

Habits are hard to break. They may have served some purpose in the past, but they still go on. For example, in modern society, we no longer need 40 hour work weeks or even everyone showing up in the office, but it still happens.

PR and Prestige

Crime lords and corrupt bureaucrats want to be feared, but they don't want to be seen as cruel or evil. Nobody wants to be the one to cut down on education or health care funding.

Governments today also refuse to modernize certain things because they don't want to put people out of a job. It becomes a form of welfare. This applies more in cyberpunk worlds. Having a high number of employees is a sign of prestige. But it doesn't count if their workforce were unskilled.

Teachers are always in need. It's easy to approve the budget on hiring more teachers than needed, just say that you want smaller class sizes. Nobody is going to call out their rival's teacher count as an inflated number of employees.


A cyberpunk megacorp is often bigger than it needs to be, corrupt, and inefficient. It's going to have a lot more money than they know what to do with it. No corp would want to hold lots of cash on hand; they'd like to invest every cent of it.

Investing in classrooms may not be as effective as online education. But people could simply not care about tracking it enough to notice that it's ineffective. Corruption prevents it from being proven ineffective; too many people have their families working as teachers to want it to be removed.

Education is also a very long term investment. It would take about a hundred years to set up a good university or school. The effects of primary school education take about 10-20 years to become visible. It would take too long to set it up again if they cancel it. So it takes too much political capital to cut out classrooms.


You can take two paths with the AI vs. human teacher arguments, depending on how you want to present your world.

One, AI classrooms are for the elite

The technology required for a quality computer education is out of reach of the lower and some percentage of the middle classes. They simply can't afford the high cost of private AI tutors.

Maybe this is because the AIs are the equivalent of luxury sports cars: costly as a barrier to entry, not necessarily because they provide a more comfortable ride to the grocery store. AIs require high-end computing resources, a fast cybernet connection etc. which translates to high subscription costs. Therefore, the bulk of citizens can't have AI teachers and are left with the antiquated, understaffed, underpaid, public education system. (See also every complaint ever leveled at "inner-city" school systems.)

Two, AI classrooms are NOT for the elite

The opposite could also be true. Maybe public schools reached a point where they couldn't find or couldn't afford quality teachers. So they started outsourcing it. First, with remote classrooms, where one teacher taught at a dozen sites simultaneously via the internet. This grew over time until the remote-site teacher was replaced by recordings of a teacher, which was then replaced by an AI teacher-like-service.

These second-rate AIs are great at lecturing and asking multiple choice type tests. But they are not good at teaching creativity, grading essay questions, or answering questions that are at all subjective.

Therefore, the elite, wealthy, classes can afford private schools with live, in-person, teachers who can actually interact with students like a person should.

The lower income parents who care about their kids wish they could afford real teachers. Alas, they get the Google Teacher service instead. Great at presenting facts. Lousy at answering complex questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Two is much more likely than one. The whole point of AI is that it is software and cheap to replicate. If hardware is the chokepoint, then make poorer students take AI classes at odd hours. You get a discount if you take your classes at midnight, because all the high-paying students are taking AI tutoring during the day and the hardware is just idle at night. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:05

So extract cyberpunk and start working early and you get present day xD...

About your question: Face to face education can be seen as ancient (depending on the year we are talking about) but it serves to discipline the students more than educate (because as mentioned above, information can be searched) but discipline is something that must be practiced.

For example take yourself from back when you were 12 insert all the technical knowledge you have/need to do your current day work (only the knowledge how to do it not life experience and all that) and put that younger savvy self in a 8 hour shift ... want to bet how long until he would leave? I'd give myself 5 mins (and I'm working on something that I loved my whole life xD)

So to summarize : it's more about how to shape their work attitude and impose a minimum of discipline that may or may not have been learned at home.


I'll try to point to some reasons not mentioned by other answers. And I think, there remain many unsaid ones, too.

  1. The robotic education will give you the same education that gets everybody. If you need something really better, you need a talented teacher. I am afraid, many real teachers are worse than a good teaching SW. (Our civilization practically has not such yet). And even "normal" teachers mostly simply don't know they own main task - to teach people how to think.

Even if computers will help to obtain knowledge, somebody must teach children to think non-standardly. Not the way that others think. Or the society is dead and doomed.

Even if you already know Altshuler, Poya and Yudkovsky methods how to think, you must be able to invent something new. This is a supertask. And your teacher, to teach you solve supertasks, must himself solve a supersupertask! Only when you have genial computers, you can learn that from them.

Our society often forgets that it simply cannot exist without geniuses for long. Always there will happen a task that cannot be solved by usual methods. And we need many geniuses to have one that will solve it and some teachers that will create these geniuses. Our society so dislikes that idea, that windows underlines for me the word "genial" now and proposes to use "genital" instead.

  1. The people of some nations always try to give their children better education. No Jew or Armenian mother will be ever content with her child getting the same education as others! If she can, the child shall get something better. And if she cannot, too. So, if your teacher is an only good one and there is a Jew mother in your world, she will find him.

  2. If you need a reason for personal meeting (really, a good teacher can teach by video connection, or even audio, or even by paper letters), that means that his subject and/or his method includes physical contact. For example, if he teaches to play on instruments or to hold a paintbrush or how to conduct some breathing/meditation/physical activities. Or these activities are the part of his teaching method. You needn't invent a real working method, but some that seems as a working one. And... you should be really good yourself to show a very talented person.


Private schools could make a lot of sense for people still respecting the old traditions of the past. Where the other mediums make a lot of sense with the society you have there maybe having your teacher be an exception. It would also make sense for a corrupt government to provide the bare minimum education with just online resources and what not, but a private tutor could personalize those resources in a way normal education does not.

Though it could bring in stigmas about wealth and strictness onto your teacher character that you may not want.


Few have already pinpointed the social component. Like, people getting money from the government. Following the "high tech low life" principle, I'll push it further.

Children get free/cheaper food at school

The actual learning might happen at home/on the street with their AI companions and all the Google they can have. (Although I deeply support the statement of @Amadeus that a dedicated and knowledgeable teacher might get to the point and teach much better, how many dedicated teachers are there in the dystopian swamp?) But the physical presence at school can be guaranteed with a free lunch.

(And because of TANSTAAFL half of the lessions would be some kind of ideological brainwashing by the very same dystopian government.)


In many cyberpunk settings the corporations ARE the government. The most succinct and perhaps simplest answer to "Why would basic, face-to-face education be valued in a society where ... education could be found online?" is so the controlling organization can make sure the "correct" education is received.

Also, it can allow the organization to identify students with aptitudes early so they can be exploited properly; you don't want your best and brightest toiling away just oiling the cogs in the machine, you want them designing/managing the cogs.


I think the scenario explained by JBH in his great answer is flawless in his/her logic (sorry JBH, I don't know your gender). Unless you solve that dichotomy, your society can't go anywhere and children education won't be exactly a priority, no matter if human or AI, they'll be quite busy just trying to survive!

However, if you're open to re-frame your world, maybe you could create a condition in which this is some kind of resistance.

For example, consider a world where robots have taken the burden of caring for mankind. They'll keep technology, health, environment and a superstructural kind of government. Kind of good and gently gods. Humans would make use of those benefit, but they will resist robots' domination. In this scenario, education by human beings would be an act of resistance by itself while society and technology would still be able to exist and thrive. Robots will look at these cyberpunk humanity like brat kids and just worry for them to be safe. Just an idea.

(and I know I'm not being very original, this kind of setup existed in many stories and films, with good or bad robots or dominant classes, semi-gods or whatever)


CyberTech High School

Cybertech owns this city, but as other answers have pointed out, without education in a few decades you are going to be king of nothing.

This is why Cybertech finds kids from a young age. They offer their employees daycare and while they have the kids they give them lots of aptitude tests. Those found acceptable are then placed into learning programs. Anyone entering these pretty much is selling their soul to work their entire life at CyberTech, but it sure beats shooting mutants in the desert for recycled food


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