Academic resilience in challenging school contexts in South Africa

Author(s): Gabrielle Wills Heleen Hofmeyr

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.

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