Lessons in resilience from PISA

Some children are more resilient than others

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?”

Useful Links

OECD educationtoday blog

Andreas Schleicher on Twitter

Brian Keeley

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  1. june ebert - 22/06/2011 Reply

    Having been a teacher in Texas for 25 years, I believe I have some insight inot the questions raised here, especially as concerns the public school system in our state. I could probably write a book on this topic myself, but I’ll try to keep my comments here as concise as possible.
    1 – I applaud the concept of the pisa test. (Please forgive my lack of capitalization at some points. I’m out of the country, and my little notebook computer is not cooperating well.)
    a. I would like to see the test myself.
    b. I would like to know how the samples are determined as teachers in the u.s. tend to believe that there is often a discrepancy in comparing students tested here with students in other countries where less capable students are “weeded out” or at least sent to different types of schools, ie. trade schools, etc.
    2 – I applaud mr. schleischer’s idea that the best things we can do to build “resilient students” is to train teachers in motivational skills.
    a. There is no doubt in my mind that motivation, wherever it comes from, is the key to any student’s success.
    b. There is also no doubt in my mind, though I am obviously showing my american mindset, that students find a great deal of their motivation from their culture…do their parents value education, do the students have intrinsic motivation, do they buy into the “it’s not cool to be smart” culture that is all too prevelant in many schools, are they encouraged by their teachers, counselors, parents and friends to take the most challenging curriculums or are they told things like “take spanish, it’s easier than french” or the like.
    3 – I applaud any efforts that would make this job of motivating students easier for the teacher.
    a. I have always loved teaching. I’m passionate about my subject matter. I’m sure that I’ve been successful from time to time in inspiring some of my students to greater things. at least one has followed in my footsteps to be a teacher and has told me and others that I was the one who inspired her. Unfortunately, that kind of feedback doesn’t come too often.
    b. I am currently retired from teaching, but I’ve just finished a seven week substituing stint for the young teacher who took my place. It was truly fun and invigorating to be back in the classroom, but I was sadly reminded that one of the reasons that I chose to go ahead and retire was that there were so many students who just don’t seem to care…they have no love of learning. It’s extremely disheartening, and it is especially so because these are almost always the same students who cause so many of the discipline problems in the classroom.

    Public school education in the states is not all bad. students who participate in the advanced placement and international baccelaureate programs tend to be very well prepared. my own daughters, of whom I am very proud, were all educated in Texas public schools. One is has a masters degree from Harvard, one is a physician, and one is a cpa. I’m sure one of the reasons for their success is the educational mindset of their home culture, another is their own sharp intellect, as well as their own intrinsic motivation.

    What I continue to worry about are the mid-range students…the “average students” who are left to be the examples and mentors for less able students in what are called “regular classes” when the more able students are put into the above mentioned advanced programs. In other words, the system provides plenty for the upper level students and provides adequately for the learning disabled, but it often leaves the average student in a limbo state where he/she has few mentors and examples of his own among his/her peers and the teaching level is slowed (sometimes to a snail’s pace) because the less able students are not often seperated into special classes of their own. It’s not difficult to see why they are not always very resilient.

    I look forward to hearing more about the pisa program and the oecd involvement.

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