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BACKGROUND: Children in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) who remain in school have better health and employment outcomes. South Africa, like many LMICs, has a secondary school completion rate under 50%, leaving room for improvement if we can identify factors that affect educational attainment. This is the first longitudinal study to examine the effects of childhood mental health and cognitions on educational outcomes in LMIC. METHODS: Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and Cognitive Triad Inventory for Children (CTI-C), we assessed the psychological functioning and cognition of children aged 10-12 in rural South Africa. We linked that data with measures of educational progress collected 5 years later and examined associations between educational progress and (1) behavioural and emotional problems and (2) cognitive interpretations, adjusting for possible confounders. RESULTS: Educational data were available for 443 individuals. 92% (n=408) of individuals had advanced three or fewer grades in 7 years. Having more positive cognitions (CTIC-C) was positively associated with progressing at least three grade levels (adjusted OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.79). There was no evidence for an association between emotional and behavioural problems (SDQ) and educational progress (OR 0.90, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.11). CONCLUSION: If children in LMICs can develop more positive perspectives, they may be able to stay in school longer. Cognitions can be modified, and future studies should test interventions that work to improve cognition in childhood, guided, for example, by principles of cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Original publication




Journal article


J Epidemiol Community Health

Publication Date





422 - 426


developing countr, education, international hlth, mental health, Child, Cognition, Educational Status, Female, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Problem Behavior, Rural Population, South Africa, Surveys and Questionnaires