Our study focuses on the academic resilience of teenagers in five slums. We surveyed young people who, despite being able to continue attending school, either through their own choice, their family affiliation or perhaps due to their socio-economic conditions, have had to stop attending school without obtaining any qualifications. It is in this way that we understand the concept of dropping out, that is – to leave school without any recognised qualification.

In this report, we propose elements to gain a greater understanding of the educational environment and of the psychology of teenagers who leave the school system early. The following results and recommendations are as useful to political decision-makers in charge of primary and secondary education as for NGOs that act in the contexts of extreme urban poverty.

Following on from this research, we propose an action model in the form of a pedagogical toolbox, the goal of which is to raise awareness among teenagers and teachers of the benefits of staying in school. One of the elements of this toolbox is a set of profiles (of a role-playing nature with fictional characters), which will be distributed to students. The rules of the game “One step forward” will be explained to teachers with a pelagic interest in raising awareness of the benefits of staying in school. This toolbox will be available online in November 2018 on the study’s website.

Our report highlights several things. Firstly, academic resilience is far from being an individual attribute. It does depend on personal and biological characteristics, but also on the family, school and community context. Highlighting these elements means integrating the responsibility of all actors involved in academic resilience.

By focusing on the study of so-called “negative” and “positive” memories, our results reveal that all teenagers, whatever their status, at school or otherwise, have more pervasive negative memories (poverty, domestic violence etc.) than those that are exceptional. Teens who attend school are, however, able to balance out these trauma-inducing memories with equally pervasive positive memories (love, support or faith), as opposed to teenagers who have dropped out from school, who rely more on more exceptional positive memories. This chronic deprivation affects their socio-emotional development and attachment and has a direct impact on academic resilience.

This study also enabled us to say that the events themselves are not the most trauma-inducing element (living in the slums, being born into a poor family or having an alcoholic father), but what teenagers do with that situation and how the environment, a family member, the whole family, the community or the school can compensate for this vulnerability. The concept of compensation has been developed throughout this study.


Psychological/Physical Response: feeling linked to a passion (“since the age of…”).

Simple interactional response (instantaneous punctual): memorable day with the family, memorable day with friends, memorable day at school (prize/graduation day), memorable day in the slum.

Family-Related Participative Response (more complex and long-term): earning money and supporting the family, attending religious events with family, sharing with family in the past (“the times when…”), sharing with family in the present (“I like it when this or that…”).

Society-Related Participative Response (effect is more long- term): sharing with friends in the past (“the times when…”), sharing with friends in the present (“I like it when this or that…”), sharing and discussions at school, sharing and discussions in the slum.

Our study comes with several proposals to enhance academic resilience.

For Municipal Policy:

Academic resilience is linked to the resilience of slum dwellers. It involves better management of urban planning towards sustainable urban planning (Sustainable Development Goals. Agenda 2030 UN). Cities need to ally themselves with nature, and this presupposes as much as it enables the conditions of human dignity: access to water, food and hygiene. For resilient urban planning, we would recommend – first and foremost – fighting against property speculation, then the integration of the slum into its socio-natural ecosystem and the management of water cycles as a cornerstone to the resilience of modern cities and societies throughout Asia.

For Schools:

Our results highlight that the schools that work the best do not use violence or discrimination. These kinds of schools do attempt to create positive reciprocal relationships, in the form of sustainable partnerships with parents and pupils. This relies not only on the personality of teachers, but on the institution’s policies with regards to receiving pupils, listening to them and offering them various activities.

Concerning the training of future teachers, we recommend paying particular attention to child psychology and for pre-existing teachers, regular training programs on active listening, to help them to improve their ability to help children/teenagers at risk. In the same vein, we also recommend developing stress assessment tools throughout the pre-teen and teenage periods. A list of useful tools to this end is available in the appendices; the Boxall Profile method caught our particular attention.

The issue of children’s biological and psycho-physiological rhythms must also be promoted in the optimal development of their cognitive skills and capacities. We should underline the necessity of creating spaces for rest within the school, a kind of day dormitory. As a way to complement these elements, certain activities should be enhanced; sports, art, meditation and relaxation. These strengthen teenage capacities for resilience and their aptitude to transcend any trauma-inducing events.

Lastly, we recommend sensitisation workshops on the importance of staying in school. These fun-based workshops, which should take the form of games, will be developed as a second part of this study. Our objectives are firstly to sensitise 40 educational structures inside and around the five slums studied here, and then to sign up 1 000 students to these workshops in the first year.

For Families:

Poverty is a major risk in the disqualification of families as the search to fulfil basic needs takes precedence over school. Parents are thus prevented from playing their role of resilience mentor in the realm of school. Turning to local municipalities and regions, we would recommend developing work-study training programs, which would enable pupils to combine school and paid work. Due to the high rate of informal employment in these regions, these work-study programs should be flexible and adapted. We would also recommend that life-long training programs be offered to slum inhabitants to create new opportunities through new skills (UNESCO 2002, Challenges for the 21st Century).

As far as public health is concerned – in treating alcohol abuse and domestic violence in slums (particularly in India) – we would recommend opening free rehabilitation centres, speaking spaces for men, women & children and sensitisation workshops on gender and domestic violence.  

For Teenagers:

The importance of personality factors, such as good self-esteem and self- confidence help promote appropriate defence strategies and coping mechanisms. In this vein, we would recommend for all slum-dwelling teenagers to work on themselves, to feed their confidence in life and believe in their own dreams. Nothing is impossible.