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Education, in most city-builder games, is straightforward: citizens go to elementary school, then high school, then university. Cities: Skylines has taken a few small steps to make the process more interesting in various DLCs. "Green Cities" added a Community School, Institute of Creative Arts, and Modern Technology Institute that cost more to educate less students than the standard schools, but used less power and water and have a slightly higher happiness bonus. (Flavor text implies that the Institute of Creative Arts and Modern Technology Institute actually teach different things, but there doesn't appear to be an actual difference in gameplay.) More notably, the "Campus" DLC dramatically changed the way universities work, switching from a single unrealistic building that educates 4,500 students to a district of campus buildings that work in concert to educate tens of thousands of students and, at high levels, actually affect gameplay (for example, having a School of Engineering will improve industrial productivity citywide).

These are definite steps forwards for the genre, but they don't begin to scratch the surface of the actual complexities of education. Schools in C:S and other games are funded equally city-wide - this is a good thing, to be clear, but it's not how schools work in many real cities - and of course a game with no sense of bias can't model realities like school segregation. All schools work equally well for all children and no one needs an IEP. There is no school bureaucracy to deal with. There's no concept of early childcare; in C:S, cims are born ready to attend elementary school. There are no private or charter schools. There are no differences in pedagogies; the art schools and STEM universities in "Green Cities" are only for flavor. All education is apparently using a truly excellent liberal arts curriculum, since every educated citizen is fully capable of becoming, say, a petrochemical engineer. Before "Campus", universities were tuition-free (the game was made by Finns) and even with "Campus" there's certainly no concept of student loan debt. And, due to the way the game handles specialized industry like farming and forestry (apparently they've never heard of agricultural and forestry science), it can actually be a serious detriment to over-educate your population.

Obviously abstraction is a necessary part of any simulation, especially a game, but considering that education is arguably the single most important function delegated to local government in many countries, modeling it more exactly would open up very interesting new questions for the player. This is a list of possible enhancements to education policy that could be applied in Charm Cities.

Measuring education

Education is not linear. There are many possible fields of education, including but very much not limited to:

  • arts
  • philosophy and theology
  • social science
  • natural science
  • mathematics

Someone who spent 20 years in STEM-focused education might be exceptionally good at natural science and mathematics, but is much less likely to write the Great Charm Cities Novel than someone else who went to a liberal arts school.

We could, then, imagine modeling education as being on some number of axes - the fewer the better for simplicity's sake. Perhaps we could say "arts", "humanities", and "sciences" for a simple tripartite division. Each school type would then have base stats indicating how many points it gave in each education category per year. A STEM school might give A+1/H+4/S+7 while a fine arts school might give A+7/H+3/S+2 and a conventional liberal arts school might give A+3/H+5/S+4. All three of those schools offer a total of 12 education points per year, though some schools might offer slightly more or less. After the equivalent of twelve years, the three students would be at A12/H48/S84, A84/H36/S24, and A36/H60/S48 respectively - though a student's traits and productivity would serve to give a bonus to those numbers. Both universities and jobs would have requirements in each track; the STEM student would certainly not get accepted for a fine arts college that required a A36/H36 minimum, while the arts student would be seriously unqualified for the engineering job that demanded S60.

This is different from the C:S model where job suitability is determined, effectively, by degree: if you have a high school diploma, you are eligible for some jobs, and if you have a college degree you are eligible for all those plus more. In reality... both are true. A bachelor's degree qualifies you for a wide range of jobs regardless of what you actually studied, and a high school diploma will probably not get you a job as an engineer no matter how STEM-focused your school was. This truth isn't inherently contradicted by the A/H/S model (we could simply say that the engineering job required S72/H60, meaning that none of the high schools would get you there on their own but the liberal arts student could easily get there after a science-heavy S+6 undergraduate program for four years) but it might be worth modeling degrees separately.

Productivity, defined in the HON logic, is currently assumed to be a number from 0.0 to 7.0. We could come up with a simple formula to turn that into a multiplier; for example, 1 + ((P - 3.5)/21), giving us a range of ±2/12. If we multiply those numbers by the A+1/H+4/S+7 figures of the STEM school, we can see that students who went to that school for twelve years would range from A10/H40/S70 up to A14/H56/S98. For children, productivity is based on the Happiness of their parents, an early childhood education (ECE) bonus, and Age.

A further 1/12 bonus is added to the Productivity bonus based on the child's traits: "creative" gives a bonus to art, "intellectual" to humanities, and "scientific" to sciences. Thus a child with the "scientific" trait who went to the STEM school and maintained 7.0 Productivity the entire time could in fact hit S105 by the end of their time there. HONs will choose schools based in part on their traits, preferring schools that meet their own desires. All schools also have a chance of adding one of the three traits to any student who studies there. The odds of gaining a trait is the school's per annum score for that category divided by 144.

Early childhood

Although some European countries do provide free, universal early childhood education which becomes available as soon as parental leave ends, this is by no means common. In many countries, for the first several years of a child's life, there are few if any government-funded full-day childcare options, and those that exist may be means-tested rather than universal (like Head Start in the United States, which is only available to parents below the federal poverty line).

This provides a case where the initial setup of the national government could affect the player's choices, and where a player who started in a country that didn't begin with universal free early childhood education could either attempt to start a program on their own (potentially changing the national conversation, but at significant cost to the city) or use political capital to try and get a program funded. Without such a program, HONs who were new parents would have to either a) not work or b) pay for childcare, either of which would be a major burden.

We can model an ECE (early childhood education) bonus as follows: for each year up to age 6 (the start of elementary school) a child gets an ECE between 0.0 and 2.0. The average of those six bonuses is the child's total ECE bonus, which will affect their Productivity throughout their schooling, though the effect will gradually fade to nothing over time.

Some possible early childhood options that might be worth modeling:

  • private in-home nannies (very high monetary cost but no travel time cost for parents, +2 ECE bonus)
  • a complete government-funded early childcare education program (high cost for city, travel time cost for parents, +2 ECE bonus)
  • private early childhood education programs (high monetary cost and travel time cost for parents, +2 ECE bonus)
  • government-funded daycare programs (moderate cost for city, travel time cost for parents, +1 ECE bonus)
  • private daycare programs (moderate monetary cost and travel time cost for parents, +1 ECE bonus)
  • government subsidy and assistance for privately organized neighborhood playgroups, in which a group of parents take turns providing childcare (moderate cost for city, no travel time cost for parents, lower-earning parent in each family works 80% as much, ECE bonus = (1 + average parental Productivity/7) × government support bonus, not to exceed a +2 ECE bonus)
  • privately organized neighborhood playgroups (no direct monetary or travel time cost, lower-earning parent in each family works 80% as much, ECE bonus = 1 + average parental Productivity/7)
  • government subsidy and assistance for stay-at-home parents (moderate cost for city, no travel time cost for parents, lower-earning parent stops working while children under 6 are in the house, ECE bonus = (1 + average parental Productivity/7) × government support bonus, not to exceed a +2 ECE bonus)
  • unsubsidized stay-at-home parents (no direct monetary or travel time cost, lower-earning parent stops working while children under 6 are in the house, ECE bonus = 1 + average parental Productivity/7)

For the two options where the government supports parents directly, a government support bonus of 120% would mean that parents with a Productivity of 4.67 would achieve the full +2 ECE bonus. Without that government support, the child would only get a +1.67 ECE bonus. For a six year old, this difference would reduce learning rates by about ~5%. A 133% government support bonus would mean that a parent with a strictly average Productivity of 3.5 would achieve the +2 ECE bonus, leading to a ~7% advantage for six year olds.


In the real world, most primary education in developed countries uses a very similar pedagogy, which is sometimes called traditional education (a misnomer since it was largely an invention of the late 19th century); conventional education is perhaps more accurate. Conventional education developed in parallel with the Industrial Revolution and its philosophy is heavily influenced by industrial concepts. The model was designed at a time when most students were expected to become industrial workers, and many education experts would say that it is not well suited to a modern economy where creativity and critical thinking are more important than conformity.

However, there are dozens of alternative pedagogies out there, some of which have been extensively studied and found to work better for students. These alternative pedagogies are often more expensive, requiring smaller class sizes, more highly trained teachers, or smaller and more carefully designed buildings, such that they may not scale up well to the size of a city. A city that did invest in alternative education models might find it paid dividends, and might well shift the national conversation and earn them political capital, but it would also create serious challenges, and it would take most of a lifetime for the investment to pay off.

Here are just a few of the possible pedagogies that might be worth modeling for primary and secondary education, with some suggested preliminary stats:

  • conventional schools: standard cost, public or private, A+2/H+5/S+5 = 12
  • magnet/specialist schools: standard cost, public, citywide catchment
    • STEM school: A+1/H+4/S+7 = 12
    • school of the arts: A+7/H+3/S+2 = 12
    • humanities academy: A+2/H+7/S+3 = 12
  • semi-conventional schools: mostly private
    • religious schools: low-cost, private only, A+3/H+6/S+4 = 13 for students with the "spiritual" trait and A+2/H+6/S+3 = 11 without, 1/36 chance of randomly either gaining or removing "spiritual" trait in any given year, less able to serve students with learning impairments, 1/3 chance of maximum Health -0.1 at age 18 (bad sex-ed)
    • Thomas Jefferson Education/Great books schools: moderate cost, may be public or private, A+3/H+5/S+4 = 12, 1/60 chance of adding either "conservative" or "liberal" trait to a student who has neither in any given year, less able to serve students with learning impairments)
    • boarding schools and country day schools: high cost, private only, A+3/H+5/S+5 = 13
  • alternative schools (generally high cost, may be public or private, 1/60 chance of adding the "go-getter" trait in any given year, better able to serve students with learning impairments)
    • Montessori schools: A+4/H+5/S+5 = 14
    • Waldorf/Steiner schools: A+5/H+5/S+4 = 14, larger Location Quality bonus, 1/3 chance of maximum Health -0.1 at age 6 (parents less likely to vaccinate)
    • Forest schools: A+5/H+4/S+5 = 14, must be built in parkland, maximum Health +0.1 to max of 1.00 at age 6, excellent at serving students with learning impairments, less able to serve students with mobility or sensory impairments
    • Sudbury schools/collective unschooling: slightly less expensive than other alternative schools, stats are determined by whether the child has the "creative", "intellectual", or "scientific" traits, 1/12 chance of gaining one of those traits in any given year, 1/48 chance of losing one
      • if child has no relevant traits, or all three: randomly choose each year between A+5/H+5/S+4, A+5/H+4/S+5, A+4/H+5/S+5 = 14
      • if child has "creative": A+8/H+3/S+3 = 14
      • if child has "intellectual": A+3/H+8/S+3 = 14
      • if child has "scientific": A+3/H+3/S+8 = 14
      • if child has "creative" + "intellectual": A+6/H+6/S+2 = 14
      • if child has "creative" + "scientific": A+6/H+2/S+6 = 14
      • if child has "intellectual" + "scientific": A+2/H+6/S+6 = 14

Disability and education