India is one of 135 countries where education is a fundamental right. On April 1st 2010, the country took an ambitious step by enacting The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE) under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. This act contains the modalities of a free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools. Further, the act requires surveys that will monitor all neighborhoods, identify children requiring education, and set up facilities for providing it.
Despite this constitutional move however, it is not uncommon to see children out of school and participating in the unorganized labor force. Because the act’s success was limited to driving up school enrollment rates in India – it did little to affect dropout rates and actual school attendance. Data shows that 30% of children drop out of school before 5th grade and 50% of children drop out before completing 8th grade.
With 70% of India’s population living under the international poverty line, this problem doubly affects those populations without proper resources. With most urban slum or rural families having two uneducated parents, one wage earner, and large families, children are more likely to enter the child labor market at age 12 than they are to continue with their education.
The situation for girls is even more severe. By the age of 15, only 34% of girls in India are still enrolled in school. In rural, agricultural India, ASER reports that female school attendance drops from 79% at ages 6-10 to 28% at ages 15-17.
Magic Bus works on the all the weak points of the already existing system. They fend off all possible obstacles that lead children to drop out of school and help them be educated and literate in the true sense of the words. This is achieved through a combination of mentoring and experiential learning by working with children from the tender age of 7 all the way till they become adults. The stress is on teaching children life lessons and values that will empower them to make better decisions in education, health, gender equality, leadership, and livelihoods.
Teaching is imparted through weekly 2-hour sessions, which begin with an icebreaker, followed by the main sport-based activity/game. Each activity/game is a pedagogical metaphor for life lessons affecting the children in their lives (education, dowry, child labor, sexual/reproductive health, and tobacco or alcohol abuse). After the activity, sitting under a tree, a reflection session is conducted where the group mentors discuss key lessons and get inputs from the children on how they are affected at home.
An example of a session:
What makes the Magic Bus model successful is that the mentoring and coaching is done through sessions of sports and games which not only equates learning to playing but also makes it fun. This is a crucial move since the children come from poor backgrounds – with low attention spans, especially in the regular textbook style of learning/teaching.
The formula is clearly working because statistics show that:
- 77% of children in Magic Bus attend school 5 days a week (70% national average)
- 96% of adolescent girls in Magic Bus attend school 5 days a week (46% national average)
- 96% of children in Magic Bus are highly engaged in the classroom (as reported by teachers)
- 95% of children in Magic Bus view their teachers favorably
- 72% of youth in Magic Bus are attending college/university (20% national average)
Most of us don’t realize it but it clearly takes a lot to stay in school and go on to college. Moreover, these crucial years determine how life pans out for us. In the case of millions of poor children in India, these years present them the opportunity of pulling themselves and their families out of poverty. Teacher apathy or the financial situation at home or fighting off child labor or even child marriage aren’t minor hurdles but are life-changing obstacles that many children in India encounter every day. Obstacles that can be overcome for just Rs. 1,500/$25 per child – which makes Magic Bus a high-impact and scalable model.