In how far can low-performing pupils be helped

A report on the most recent OECD, called Low performing students — Why they fall behind and how to help them reveals, according to, that “New Zealand children from poor families are over six times more likely to do badly at maths than children from well-off families.” The situation, which can surely also be applied to other subjects as well, couldn’t be more grave. It seems to be a vicious circle with hardly a way to escape, to lead a fulfilled life and maybe even become successful in terms of their career.

I wonder whether there is anything schools and teachers can do to make up for it.

It does seem to be a big challenge. Firstly, because poverty sometimes goes along with little understanding of the necessity and value of academic education — but surely, and this holds also true for the following statements, you have to be careful with overgeneralisation. Poor parents sometimes don’t convey how interesting learning can be, don’t show them how exciting reading be, and as a consequence, don’t help them in their learning process. People are depressed because of their life’s situation and have already given up hope that it might change one day. This attitude is passed on to their children and so they have little intrinsic motivation of putting effort into their learning. So they won’t like going to school that much and might sometimes even cut school.

Secondly, there’s also the financial problem. The parents don’t have the money to provide them with everything their children need at school: the books, exercise books and healthy nutrition as basis for their children’s learning. The pupils might get bullied by pupils whose parents are a bit better off, which would discourage their motivation to go to school even more

Given all that, hardly anyone would be encouraged to teach at one of the schools with many pupils from a poor background. Fortunately, although the basis for their learning might not be encouraging, the pupils’ motivation can still be raised through some internal (within the teacher and pupils) and external factors. Firstly, it starts with the teacher’s expectation, according to, in which the pupils experience that the teacher cares for them and shows them where their talents are. In turn, they will try their best at school as not to disappoint their teacher. They don’t necessarily have to turn into brilliant pupils, but maybe they will do well enough to get the job that interests them and pays them enough.

Thirdly, their motivation can be raised through appropriate material and class sizes, according to, in which the teacher has more time for every single pupil.

So there is hope to break this vicious circle, even though it requires some effort both by the teachers and the pupils themselves.