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Some years ago the British Government decided to support a major investment in upgrading education on St Helena. A new secondary school was built - and named after Prince Andrew, who, together with several St Helenians, had served as part of the force sent to deal with the Falklands conflict in 1982. Teachers were sent to the UK for training. Curricula were upgraded. In the late 1980s and early 1990s this was the largest development project in St Helena. Before the upgrading it was noticed that girls did noticeably better than boys in finishing their secondary education, and going on to higher education (although the latter was rare for both sexes).

The reason was not hard to find. One route to employment for young St Helenian men was to work as laborers on Ascension Island or the Falkland islands. This paid much better than government jobs on St Helena, but demanded few qualifications. Girls, on the other hand, needed to compete for the jobs available on St Helena, where qualifications were used to screen among the applicants.

While the upgrading of St Helena's education system was underway, by coincidence there was a large expansion in demand for labor from the Falkland Islands. Suddenly St Helenian women were in demand as well as men.

This made the challenge of improving educational standards even more difficult, as the incentives for young people of both sexes to gain education qualifications were dented by opportunities to earn relatively high wages in the short run. This affected the teachers too - several St Helenian teachers resigned and left to take relatively unskilled jobs in the Falklands.

At that time young people in St Helena had few options. They were not allowed to work in the UK (beyond a limited scheme allowing them to enter domestic service!). The only off-island opportunities were working on Ascension, the Falklands, or on the ship supplying the island, the RMS St Helena. About 90% of the on-island economy and jobs were in government.

Opportunities and incentives make a tremendous difference to how individuals invest in their own education.


Laurence Carter

Senior Director, Public-Private Partnerships Group

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