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Academic Resilience in Challenging Contexts: Evidence From Township and Rural Primary Schools in South Africa

Gabrielle Wills () and Heleen Hofmeyr ()
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Heleen Hofmeyr: Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University

No 18/2018, Working Papers from Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics

Abstract: Poverty is considered a risk factor that jeopardizes children’s academic performance. However, even in high-poverty contexts there are students who manage to achieve consistently good academic results. This paper uses a resilience framework to identify and describe the characteristics of students from South African rural and township primary schools who perform above demographic expectations in reading comprehension. We use a rich longitudinal dataset of over 2600 Grade 6 students that contains information on institutional and individual protective factors, including students’ socio-emotional skills (perseverance, aspirations, and attitudes toward school). The longitudinal dimension of the data provides a unique opportunity to not only identify consistently higher achievers, but also students whose literacy skills improved significantly more than their peers during a school year. After accounting for differences in socio-economic status and other home background factors such as English language exposure, we find that resilient students differ significantly from their lower-achieving peers along various dimensions. Students’ socio-emotional skills emerge as particularly strong correlates of academic resilience. Although individual-level protective factors appear to be the strongest determinants of academic resilience, classroom factors such time-on-task and the availability of texts also play an important role. These findings add to our understanding of factors associated with academic success in challenging contexts.

Keywords: Student achievement; Exceptional performance; Literacy; South Africa (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J20 J24 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-dev
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