Save livelihood to save childhood: Magic Bus impact survey of Covid-19 pandemic

September 9, 2020

The most affected by the Covid-19 crisis are marginalised groups and India has seen a cascading effect on mainly livelihoods and children’s education. The need to identify the issues, understand and develop appropriate need based interventions to address them in a timely manner is critical for Government and NGOs. This need coupled with Magic Bus’ wide spread and reach in some of the marginalised communities in India motivated us to conduct a survey. The study has shed light on the number of issues that have emerged as a direct effect of Covid-19 and the impact that it has on children, young people and their families. The survey will help develop strategies for responding to the crisis – in the post-lockdown period – to build income security for the families and ensure continuity of learning and well-being of children.

Demography of families surveyed

  • Among 3699 parents of adolescents interviewed, 65% were male and 35% female. Female respondents were relatively low in the Western region (28%), possibly due to more men having access to mobile phones. Moreover, 3617 adolescents, 47% boys and 53% girls, were interviewed during the survey
  • About two-thirds of the adolescents interviewed were in the 6-8 grade (68%) while about a third were in the 9-12 grade (28%)
  • More than half of the respondents were from rural areas (60%)


  •  A telephonic survey was conducted on 24-26 April 2020 with registered participants of Magic Bus programmes
  • The survey was conducted among adolescents and their parents spread across 39 districts and 21 states in India, representing the four regions of East, West, North and South where Magic Bus has presence. The representative sample was drawn using PPS method. PPS (Proportion to Population Size) sampling approach was used in selecting the clusters/districts for conducting the survey. The respondents were selected for conducting interviews using a systematic random sampling in each district. Efforts were made to cover male and female respondents among the parents.
  • In each selected household, one adolescent and one of the parents (either father or mother) were interviewed. Parents were interviewed to know how the pandemic had affected their livelihood and food security at household level.

Loss of livelihoods

According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 1 in 4 employed lost jobs across India in March-April. The unemployment rate stands at 27.11%, with urban areas having a higher rate of unemployment (29.22%) as against rural areas (26.69%).

  • Our survey shows a similar trend. There was a 73% loss of income in the month of April (INR 2,893) over the previous month of March (INR 10,557) due to the lockdown. Maximum loss was reported in the Western region where the average income was relatively high (INR 12,465).
  • More than half of the parents interviewed, 55% reported having no income during the lockdown – highest in the East (63%) and lowest in the West (40%).
  • More women reported having no income during the period of lockdown, as compared to men. The loss of livelihoods coupled by the increase in unpaid, domestic caregiving work may put women at a distinct disadvantage in the ongoing pandemic.

Access to government support

  • More than half of the respondents (57%) mentioned that they had received Government support in some form of transfer. Among those who received Government support, 85% reported receiving food ration while 43% received cash transfer. Almost half of the respondents (41%) reported borrowing money from others for subsistence.

Gender inequality

  • Women were more vulnerable with more unemployment (18% when compared to 10% in men), and high illiteracy (27% when compared to 14% in men).
  • A higher proportion of girls (47%) reported being involved in household chores during the lockdown, compared to boys (40%) – We may therefore observe that girls who have now been seen at home supporting household chores may not find their way back to school as household look for additional working hands inside and outside homes.
  • More adolescent girls (14%) indicated that they did not have equal access to food in comparison to boys (10%). –As scarcity leads to reallocation of resources, gender discrimination in the consumption of food becomes more obvious.

Impact on education

We seem to be turning the clock back on education.

  • Intent vs ability: 92% parents want to send their children to school or college after the lockdown ends. 41% parents admitted to not being in a position to afford education (South is highest at 49%). As often seen in crises, just like nutrition and health, education tends to get relegated to the bottom of the list when households are re-prioritising expenditures. The gains made in education have been significant over the years and every effort needs to be made for inclusion, response to emerging needs, maintaining learning continuity, addressing digital divide if we are to ensure that the clock is not turned back on education and more importantly on the important aspects of learning and the experience of being in a school setting.
  • Though, more than half of the adolescents said they had a fixed place available at home for study (59%) – highest in the Eastern region (70%), 40% adolescents said that they did not have enough time to study and were not able to concentrate on their lessons. The 2017-18 NSSO data says that only 10.7 percent Indians have laptops and computers. Only 23.4 percent have internet access. In rural areas, only 4 percent of the population have laptops, computers and internet access.
  • Our study shows 34% respondents don’t own a mobile phone affecting accessibility to study resources: Most of the adolescents reported having access to books (91%) and mobile phones as a family asset (55%) as study resources. 83% adolescents don’t have access to online learning resources. Highest in South (92%). As Government and non-profits alike turn to online learning resources, access concerns remain and therefore the need to look at alternatives that besides promoting multi-platform learning are also able to simulate the experience of a school – active play, forming friendships, collective learnings, having role models and many equally important
    aspects of socio-emotional learning, among others.
  • Almost half of the adolescents reported knowing about schools having introduced some form of online learning (48%). This shows that awareness about online learning resources is high. Adolescents also knew about different forms of online learning resources including WhatsApp (71%), Online App (37%), TV Education Channel (34%), phone calls (26%) and websites (13%). For a child, school is the fulcrum for several things: learning and education, collective playing and socialising, nutrition, health and hygiene.

Food security of households

  • About 35% of parents indicated that midday meal provided to their children in school was very important and they could not manage without it. Importance of midday meals was reported to be highest in the Eastern (42%) and Southern regions (42%)
  • About a third of the parents (31%) said that they had supplies which would last only for a week. More in the South (40%) and East (39%) reported having supplies only for a week. Further, about a fifth of the respondents mentioned that they had supplies for 2-3
    weeks (20%).
  • Majority of parents (70%) reported making adjustments in their food habits. More women than men reported to making these adjustments.
  • Respondents mentioned about switching to less nutritious food (56%), reduced number of meals (47%) and smaller portion of meals (26%).
  • More than a third of the adolescents reported not being able to eat food like they used to before the lockdown (37%). This percentage was the highest in the East (47%) and lowest in the West (22%).
  • About a tenth of the adolescents indicated that they did not have equal access to food (12%).

Right now, more than ever, we have to be focused on the mental health of the child rather than
learning alone.

Relevance of life-skills in helping adolescents cope with the uncertain nature of the pandemic

  • A majority of the adolescents reported that participating in life skills sessions of Magic Bus had made them more resilient and helped in dealing with the current situation (82%). Life skills that were reported to have helped them included team work (49%), problem solving (48%), communication (44%), eating healthy (42%) and self-confidence (33%).
  • Most of the adolescents reported that they would like to participate in the life skills sessions of Magic Bus soon after the lockdown was lifted (81%)

Impact on adolescent’s well-being

  • It was evident from the survey that adolescents were very concerned about the livelihood of their family. A high proportion of adolescents reported that decrease in income of the family (69%) was the main concern, followed by loss of regular pay of family members (60%)
  • 37% adolescents reported being sad at home, 7% frustrated, and 2% depressed. 38% adolescents reported being happy at home. 84% adolescents responded missing school, 57% said that they missed the Magic Bus life skills session, 51% missed meeting friends, and 48% missed playing outdoor games.
  • 6% of the adolescents indicated that they had witnessed violence or discrimination at home – highest in the Southern region (12%).
    Adolescents’ perceptions of the post-COVID world
  • A high proportion of adolescents interviewed were optimistic that the current crisis would be over soon (61%), and they were confident of dealing with unexpected events such as this pandemic (86%).
  • A majority of the respondents felt that they could overcome the distress caused by the lockdown (84%), save themselves and their family based on proper information (92%), and had the ability to beat the virus (85%).

Key Messages:

1. Livelihood restoration now becomes the starting point as we need to address household poverty first to enhance the ability of the family to invest in nutrition, education and health

2. As household incomes get affected a holistic response is required especially at the level of the child and the family, which needs to be seen through a gender lens

3. School has always been a space for learning and is critical for a child’s mental and social wellbeing. There is a need to find alternative ways to reach out to children, invest in socio-emotional learning and develop key life skills to help them adapt to the current times

4. In order to decrease the learning gap we need to continue to invest in children’s interest in learning, create alternate spaces and opportunities for creative learning engagement as uncertainty around the reopening of schools persists

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