Singapore students are some of the most resilient in the world and more likely to rise over disadvantaged backgrounds and do well in school.
Still, data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also shows that students coming from poorer families are more than four times more likely to be low performers, compared with more affluent peers.
These students are more likely to score below the baseline proficiency in science, according to the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2015 test.
The survey, which defined disadvantaged students as being in the bottom quarter of the socio-economic index within their country, polled 540,000 teens from 72 economies. These included about 5,800 students from Singapore.
The good news is that a significant proportion of Singapore students beat the odds to do well. The Republic, along with Japan, has the fourth most number - or nearly 50 per cent - of such students.
OECD considers them resilient students, as they emerge in the top quarter of performers and outperform what is predicted by their backgrounds. Vietnam has the most, with 75.5 per cent, followed by Macau and Hong Kong, with more than 60 per cent each.
Education observers said that schools' support programmes and financial assistance schemes have helped needy students to level up.
But they said that social inequality in schools is a trend that bears watching.
EFFORTS TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD
MOE will continue to ensure all students have access to quality education and opportunities to develop their interests and strengths in their schooling years, regardless of their starting points.
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION SPOKESMAN
The OECD report, titled Excellence And Equity In Education, stated that while the impact of socio-economic disadvantage varies across economies, its association with low performance is statistically significant in all Pisa-participating economies.
To compile an index of social, economic and cultural status, the study gathered data about individuals' backgrounds, such as their parents' jobs and qualifications, home resources and environment.
In Singapore, socio-economic differences accounted for 17 per cent of the variation in students' science performance in Pisa, compared with the OECD average of 13 per cent.
At the school level, nearly two-thirds - or 60.9 per cent - of the variation in schools' science scores here is accounted for by the socio-economic make-up of their students. The OECD average is 62.9 per cent.
Professor Kerry Kennedy of the Education University of Hong Kong told The Straits Times that this means the school a student attends is likely to "be a good indicator of whether he or she will score well in Pisa".
Said the academic, who was in Singapore in September to give a related lecture: "More academic students are likely to come from well-off families, so schools benefit from the cultural capital that accompanies students from these families.
"Equally, students who come from disadvantaged families do not have this kind of cultural capital, and this affects their performance."
However, National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said that socio-economic status is "about likelihood rather than something cast in stone that automatically pre-determines academic performance", and the education system here is still a channel for social mobility across generations.
The job for schools, he added, is to help less well-off students level up to their peers.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said there is a range of financial assistance programmes, and that schools can use extra funds for students who need more support. There are also learning support programmes for those who need more academic help, school-based student care centres that provide a more structured after-school learning environment and subsidised enrichment programmes and overseas trips.
"MOE will continue to ensure all students have access to quality education and opportunities to develop their interests and strengths in their schooling years, regardless of their starting points," said a spokesman.