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Data gathered as a result of the low-income household survey revealed that female heads of household were more likely than joint heads of household to have completed secondary school and were the least likely group to have had primary school education only. However, they were the least likely group to have completed the more prestigious high school education (see table 3).

Table 3. Level of education achieved by different types of household heads

Type of household

Percentage of households completing specific level of eduction


Primary or less

Secondary/All age














The educational background of the 12 women was fairly basic. For those who had progressed to secondary levels of schooling it was frequently the case that their schooling had been interrupted by economic necessities resulting from changes in their families' situation.

Education in Jamaica is the traditional means of upward mobility and great hopes are pinned on children's educational performance. As will be seen from some of the case studies one of the main priorities of the women interviewed was for their children to get a good education so that they would not have to suffer in the same way that they themselves had.

Some illustrative excerpts from the case studies are given below.


"So I was the biggest one. We have to stay with the little ones, go to the river and carry water and those little things until when I reach 14 and I get a lame foot and I have to leave school. Then after it get better I couldn't go back to school and me start working at age 14".

"Then after that I never got to go back to school and I never learn any trade. My mother said I should learn sewing but my father have too much of us so I had to do something for myself and I begin to struggle then until now.

Carmen is depressed about the educational options for her own children:

"To think about the future and these children, you don't know where to turn because there is nobody to think about them. I don't see nowhere where there is hope for children now. We are women and the women have the most responsibility of children and when they grow up and get to a certain age they can't find anything to do. You must find a child really ambitious now fi him really come to something now you know. Or put up with it all. They will try, but to depend on someone to help them there is no help at all.

"In 1969 (when I came to Kingston} I never had so much knowledge. It is only the richest of the richest can really make it. When you take a subject (an exam) and you have to tek one hundred, one hundred and fifty dollars fi pay fi it, it can't work. My son realise I can't do that, and then he just fall back and give up.


"Only one of the children is working at the present time. One is not working and one just left school in July. The one that is working works in the free zone.

"I am hoping that they achieve a skill in life and don't end up like me not having a skill."


Four of lcie's children are still going to school.

"The school fees are very high - $400. The bigger ones not doing any great thing to help. One can do typing but she lost the tote and is looking another. I had one go to commercial (college) in Half Way Tree but I can't find the fee. I trying to school my daughters to help them to get something to help themselves. I want them to finish at school and get a work. One can do typing at HEART (a training institution) but she can't get a job.

"Me don't know where the money a come from. I have to get brown socks and uniform. Last year wasn't so bad because I was doing a lot of washing but this year things are bad and the uniform expensive."


Lena started going to school in Maidstone which she liked because "I was bright." But before she went to school she had to do chores around the house.

"When we get up in the morning. we usually get up from 5 a.m. in the country. Well first of all we mek up the fire and put on the water. Then we parents come out an we sweep up the concrete (yard). 1 had to look after the two younger girls. Mama washed clothes for people in the area and my stepfather did the farming. He worked very hard. When I came home from school I helped my mother cook. Yes, I worked hard, I could do everything."

In 1966 when she was 15, Lena's real father died and the maintenance support stopped coming so she had to start work. The fact that her education was cut short and that she had to start work so early has not made Lena bitter but she does want better for her children and wants them to respect her.

"I want the children to appreciate me and say I work hard. I want them to come to something good in life and to work hard at school.


"I went to Kings All Age. I didn't know how important school was so I didn't do much. I used to help on the farm, planting and weeding. I planted peas and corn. I used to like that because we used to plant our own little garden beside their own. After a while my grandfather got old and he couldn't handle the farming. My grandmother had to do it and to pay people to do it so I went to live with one of my aunts and all she did was make me do the housework. She send her children to school and people in the district always talk about 'why your auntie can't send you to go and learn something?'

Once she tried when I was about 15 and I only had about two years left in school but they told me that I didn't make sense. Then I said to myself there must be some other way that I can survive. I didn't tell my mother what was going on but my aunt didn't treat me the best way.

"My daughter she definitely have to have a skill. She can't come and struggle the way I am struggling now. It's her choice when she grow up what she wants to do, but as long as she is under my protection I will have to see that she get a skill and don't depend on anyone. And that mean she have to get a good education background.

"If I lived my life over I would have to go to school. Whenever time they send me to school I won't scratch my head and say me teeth is hurting, my toe, my belly. I will know definitely that school is the key. For everything you have to have education. So if I live my live all over it will be different for me. I would live in town because there's a lot of opportunity. In the country you go to school and from when you come home you have to feed the fowl and ting. In town you have time to do your housework and tiny like that.

"My ambition for my children? That they grow up and don't be like me now, that they have a better life, better education.

My dream for them is to grow up better than me and not be struggling like me."


Megan wants her children to grow up to be a nurse, doctor, teacher, hairdresser or accountant.

"Any of these jobs is what I want them to become. I know they can come out to be any one of these like any big shot pickney."


"I went to Middlesex All Age School and then came to town when I left there. I went to school when I was six plus. I remember school was far away. We had to walk approximately about two miles to and from school. In the morning I had to wash dishes, tidy the house and sweep the yard. The boys had to go out with the cow and goats and feed the pigs.

"In the evenings we had to wash our uniforms and press them. If they don't dry we had to press them in the morning before school.

"I remember I was glad to come to Kingston to live. You know it was very exciting. But when we come it was a different sort of thing. Like the food that we usually get to eat and everything else change. We don't go to school often. The savings use up. More days I don't go to school because I had to stay and care for my little brothers and sisters. Sometimes I don't go to school for a whole week or two straight."