Poverty is considered a risk factor that jeopardizes children’s academic performance. Yet even in high poverty contexts there are students who manage to achieve consistently good academic results despite their adverse circumstances or even the schools they attend. Understanding what enables these students to succeed against the odds may provide valuable insights into what is necessary for academic success in challenging socio-economic and school contexts.

This policy brief highlights the key findings of a study that aimed to identify academically resilient grade 6 learners in 60 township and rural schools across three provinces in South Africa. We show that these resilient learners are located across many schools, including very low-quality schools, and are reaching meaningful levels of literacy proficiency. We also highlight the characteristics of these resilient learners, particularly the socio-emotional skills that distinguish them from their lower-performing peers.