Magic Bus Survey of COVID-19 Impact on Families and Children

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India, June 2020: The most affected by the COVID-19 crisis are marginalised groups, and India has seen a cascading effect on 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 the Government and NGOs. This need coupled with Magic Bus’ widespread 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 per cent were male and 35 per cent female. Female respondents were relatively low in the Western region (28 per cent), possibly due to more men having access to mobile phones. Moreover, 3617 adolescents, 47 per cent boys and 53 per cent girls, were interviewed during the survey
  • About two-thirds of the adolescents interviewed were in the 6-8 Grade (68 per cent) while about a third were in the 9-12 Grade (28 per cent)
  • More than half of the respondents were from rural areas (60 per cent) 

 Coverage

  • A telephonic survey was conducted on April 24-26, 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 a presence. The representative sample was drawn using the 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 the household level. 

Loss of Livelihoods

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

  • Our survey shows a similar trend. There was a 73 per cent 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 per cent reported having no income during the lockdown – highest in the East (63 per cent) and lowest in the West (40 per cent).
  • More women reported having no income during the period of lockdown, as compared to men. The loss of livelihoods coupled with 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 per cent) mentioned that they had received Government support in some form of transfer. Among those who received Government support, 85 per cent reported receiving food ration while 43 per cent received cash transfer. Almost half of the respondents (41 per cent) reported borrowing money from others for subsistence. 

Gender Inequality

  • Women were more vulnerable with more unemployment (18 per cent when compared to 10 per cent in men), and high illiteracy (27 per cent when compared to 14 per cent in men).
  • A higher proportion of girls (47 per cent) reported being involved in household chores during the lockdown, compared to boys (40 per cent) – 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 households look for additional working hands inside and outside homes.
  • More adolescent girls (14 per cent) indicated that they did not have equal access to food in comparison to boys (10 per cent) – 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.

  • Though more than half of the adolescents said they had a fixed place available at home for study (59 per cent) – the highest in the Eastern region (70 per cent), 40 per cent 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 per cent of Indians have laptops and computers. Only 23.4 per cent have internet access. In rural areas, only 4 per cent of the population have laptops, computers and internet access.

  • Our study shows 34 per cent respondents do not own a mobile phone affecting accessibility to study resources: Most of the adolescents reported having access to books (91 per cent) and mobile phones as a family asset (55 per cent) as study resources. 83 per cent of adolescents do not have access to online learning resources; the highest is in the South (92 per cent). 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 per cent). This shows that awareness about online learning resources is high. Adolescents also knew about different forms of online learning resources including WhatsApp (71 per cent), Online App (37 per cent), TV Education Channel (34 per cent), phone calls (26 per cent) and websites (13 per cent).

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 per cent of parents indicated that the 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 per cent) and Southern regions (42 per cent)
  • About a third of the parents (31 per cent) said that they had supplies which would last only for a week. More in the South (40 per cent) and East (39 per cent) reported having supplies only for a week. Further, about a fifth of the respondents mentioned that they had supplies for 2-3 weeks (20 per cent).
  • Majority of parents (70 per cent) 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 per cent), reduced number of meals (47 per cent) and a smaller portion of meals (26 per cent).
  • More than a third of the adolescents reported not being able to eat food like they used to before the lockdown (37 per cent). This percentage was the highest in the East (47 per cent) and lowest in the West (22 per cent).
  • About a tenth of the adolescents indicated that they did not have equal access to food (12 per cent).

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 per cent). Life skills that were reported to have helped them included teamwork (49 per cent), problem-solving (48 per cent), communication (44 per cent), eating healthy (42 per cent) and self-confidence (33 per cent).
  • 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 per cent)

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 a decrease in income of the family (69 per cent) was the main concern, followed by the loss of regular pay of family members (60 per cent)
  • 37 per cent of adolescents reported being sad at home, 7 per cent is frustrated, and 2 per cent depressed. 38 per cent of adolescents reported being happy at home. 84 per cent of adolescents responded to missing school, 57 per cent said that they missed the Magic Bus life skills session, 51 per cent missed meeting friends, and 48 per cent missed playing outdoor games.
  • 6 per cent of the adolescents indicated that they had witnessed violence or discrimination at home – the highest is in the Southern region (12 per cent).

Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Post-COVID World

  • A high proportion of adolescents interviewed were optimistic that the current crisis would be over soon (61 per cent), and they were confident of dealing with unexpected events such as this pandemic (86 per cent).
  • A majority of the respondents felt that they could overcome the distress caused by the lockdown (84 per cent), save themselves and their family based on proper information (92 per cent), and had the ability to beat the virus (85 per cent).

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 well-being. 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