It won’t be news to anyone at this stage that – on average – students from poorer families don’t do as well in school as kids from middle class families.
As the OECD’s PISA education research has shown, social background is consistently one of the major factors that determines average student performance.
But it’s important to emphasise the word “average”.
In just about every place that takes part in PISA, a proportion of kids from poorer families buck the trend – they do much better in school than might be predicted based on their family circumstances.
Such kids even have a name – “resilient students”. Across OECD countries, about three out of ten kids from poorer families are resilient, according to results from the latest round of PISA.
But the findings also show big variations between countries: In effect, in some places social background has a much smaller impact than in others. In Korea, for instance, well over 50% of kids from poorer backgrounds are resilient, and among some non-OECD members the proportion is even higher: Over 70% in the Chinese city of Shanghai. Finland – a traditional PISA high-flyer – also does well, with close to 50% of students beating the odds. The results are less encouraging at the other end of the scale: Only 20% of students are resilient in Austria and, as the BBC reports, only around 24% in the United Kingdom.
The research offers some insights into the factors that can help to encourage resilience. Spending more time in class is one: “In France, Germany and the Netherlands, resilient students spend at least one hour and 45 minutes more in science classes per week than disadvantaged low-achievers do,” the latest edition of PISA In Focus notes. Self-confidence and motivation also matter.
Incidentally, if you want to find out more about the man behind OECD PISA – our colleague Andreas Schleicher – he’s profiled in the latest edition of The Atlantic. Andreas tells journalist Amanda Ripley about the state of education research before PISA: “I remember everyone telling you, ‘We have the best education system in the world,’” he says. “To his data-driven mind,” she comments, “this was madness. How can everyone be the best?”