Magic Bus

Quality Education: A National Perspective
02/24/2014 10:25

"Sport is a universal language. It unites people and cultures and helps to build bridges for peace. It can be a powerful catalyst for social change. That is why the UN supports using sport to promote equality and social inclusion and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals." (Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary general)


Why 6th April matters to Magic Bus


The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace will be an important day for Magic Bus as it is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to the marginalized children in India. At Magic Bus, we engage with the playground as a learning space so sport is a dynamic, inclusive tool that guides and structures our interventions. April 6th will therefore be for us both a celebration of work done so far, and a reminder of all that needs doing to ensure children have control and choice in their lives.


We plan to use an audio-visual exhibition, shot and curated by the ground team that implements Magic Bus’ programmes in 4 States of India, for this day.


The significance of this day


Magic Bus strives to reach out to children who for structural and systemic reasons are unable to access some of most fundamental choices for a life with dignity. These choices include those to education, good health, sustainable livelihoods, and control over one’s body.


Our work in the field has shown that without a quality education, a child’s access to other learning opportunities may fall disproportionately, leaving him/her unable to develop personally, with little knowledge of how to enter the job market, little knowledge of basic or sexual health. This situation can often compound existing socio-economic and gender divides.


How does Magic Bus plan to celebrate it?


Magic Bus implements an ecosystemic programme, with sport as the vehicle. This results in synergy, wherein all individual inputs (improving educational retention, promoting healthy behavior, etc.) are combined to create a higher output.


First, is the individual child. Each child is encouraged to stay in formal education whilst also attending Magic Bus. Through the sports programme, children are motivated to play and learn as teams, and sport works to incorporate lessons of self-esteem and leadership, personal values and understanding of the self, both physically and emotionally. Besides, through sport sessions children learn invaluable lessons relating to hygiene (and its link with disease prevention), nutrition (and its link with anemia, concentration in school etc), mutual respect and an understanding of difference and diversity.


Secondly, Magic Bus works on both the intra- as well as the inter-relations in a community. What this means is that Magic Bus promotes inter-relations such as between peer groups of differing genders, as well as intra-relations, such as within families. Building an understanding among these complex relationships holds importance in the development of the children, as well as improving the lives of others.


Thirdly, Magic Bus works at the community level. By understanding the community’s needs, concerns and interests, the programme can be better placed to provide a space for children, as well as ensuring sustainability and the ability for the programme to eventually to partially drive itself.


Part one


As Spaaij (2009: 1109) contends, it is by now “…Commonplace to point to the absence of ‘hard’ evidence needed to ‘test’ whether and how sport programmes actually work, to criticise the shortcomings of ‘anecdotal evidence’ and to stress the need for better monitoring and evaluation of ‘sport-4-d’ programmes”.


This paper will use the facets of development from sport and physical activity as outlined in Beutler (2008: 365). Although differing in their amount of ‘proof‘ ability, there is evidence of all these effects being seen via sport, and thus in this paper they shall be elaborated as such.


No impact can or should be seen in isolation; gender equity is promoted through education, and social empowerment as an impact group is affected by education and employment, just to name a few. This situation compounds the difficulty of measuring the impacts. The next part of this paper will use some Magic Bus case studies to thread the impact groups together.


Enabling choices for a healthier life


Pramod grew up in Dharavi, the slum community in Mumbai. He learnt about Magic Bus from a friend at school, and although he initially joined just to get a ‘ride on the bus’, that initial curiosity was rewarded, and he began to enjoy regularly attending and participating in all aspects of the programme. He felt that Magic Bus provided a space for learning that did not happen anywhere else, such as about child rights and respect for the body. His parents began to notice a change in him, and noted that he took increased care over hygiene and his health after learning of the importance of doing so at Magic Bus, for example how imperative it is to wash of hands after defecation and before touching food or food utensils.


Ashwin also grew up in Dharavi, Mumbai. He states that amongst his community initially there was hostility from the leaders towards Magic Bus’ involvement in the area. However, over time and with discussions on both sides, the area realized the positive results Magic Bus sessions bring. Ashwin recalls that at the time many of his peers and friends were dropping out of school, with a number of them becoming involved with drugs, alcohol or smoking. Magic Bus helped him cope with the peer pressure he faced in this situation, explaining the dangers of using substances of any kind, and giving him the information and tools to make the decisions for himself about his own health. Ashwin’s learning about the detrimental effects of substances allowed him to teach others about living well, thus contributing to public health development. 


Enabling communities to work together


Sheetal, Laxmi and Diksha are from the Magic Bus team working in the Navi Daheli village in Maharashtra state. This village is small (about 200 homes), although it has some infrastructure - a primary and secondary school, health centre and drinking water.


The journey of Magic Bus into the village itself was not an easy one. Initially, leaders and parents in the village felt that the Magic Bus programme was not right for their people. The aspect of sports was seen to them as distracting from studies, rather than, as Magic Bus believe, a complimentary and driving force for education and formal studies.


Through reasoned consultations with Navi Daheli teachers, the three staff members were able to discuss with them sport’s benefits, and develop a Sports for Development Committee in the village. The Committee evolved and opened up discourses from many members of the village on multiple issues.


This case study highlights not only how the Magic Bus initiative can improve children’s academic grades and performance in school, as it eventually did in Navi Daheli, but also how it can provide a formal and constructive dialogue space within a community, leading to sustainable community development starting with a communication platform.


Enabling economic and social empowerment


This area of development is a large one, and each aspect could be the subject of an entire paper. Briefly however, this paper chooses to highlight a few aspects.


Combating discrimination and tackling disadvantage


Kavita’s story is one of overcoming discrimination within a community. She is from Timarpur, an area near the city of Delhi. Kavita is part of a big family, and has struggled with learning and social interaction difficulties throughout childhood. Although initially disruptive and misbehaved, the Magic Bus staff members Sultana and Arun continued to invest in her, believing as they did in the potential in every child. Kavita was continually welcome and encouraged in Magic Bus sessions by both the Mentors and other children, resulting in a slow, but steady behavioral shift. The support from Kavita’s family and Magic Bus ensured that she was not discriminated against or excluded; most importantly, that she was not left at a greater disadvantage.


Social integration and mobilization


Rakhi is from the J.J. Colony slum in Northern Delhi. Her enthusiasm and hard work caused her to stand out in her community. She became a Community Youth Leader (a Magic Bus volunteer) shortly after, which allowed her to integrate other children in the area into the programme, having been a beginner herself once. This, and a number of other developmental activities in the community resulted in Rakhi initially feeling overwhelmed. However, with Magic Bus’ support, she decided to persevere, and continued both her role as Community Youth Leader and began a computer training course.


Social mobilization is the act of facilitating change through a range of actors*. Rakhi’s story indicates this as she was able to gain a well-paying job with another NGO. Her positive situation has caused her to have a certain amount of respect in the area. Rakhi being looked to as a role model in the community where she is another actor with the resources to initiate and sustain positive developmental change. 


Enabling better Livelihoods by ensuring young people get the best possible start in life


Ajay Alma is from a small village of about 200 homes called Kinhi, in the state of Maharashtra. Prior to his connection with Magic Bus, Ajay’s situation revolved around ad-hoc low paid jobs in the vicinity, despite completing his studies until 12th Grade in the local school. Magic Bus gave him the opportunity to learn skills which are extremely difficult to teach in a classroom: leadership, confidence and self-assurance. By taking on a role of Community Youth Leader, he was able to learn and ultimately master these skills through presentations to audiences and by leading the other children. This experience gave Ajay the tenacity to pursue a job with the police force, bringing pride and success to himself, his family, and community.


This case study highlights the often intangible skills needed for children to even begin to think differently about what type of employment opportunities are available for them. A child’s self-assurance and presentation skills cannot be measured on a graph, however the benefits of these life skills are self-evident in Ajay’s case. 




Mangesh is from Sumthana, a small town of 500 households, located in the state of Maharashtra. At the beginning of his journey with Magic Bus, he had irregular attendance at both school and the Magic Bus sessions. His parents were unaware of this aspect of his life until the Community Youth Leader informed them of Mangesh’s irregularity at school. The local Magic Bus staff member also took the time to explain to him why and how education is important to his life and his future. After this small intervention, Mangesh’s attendance rapidly improved, resulting in better grades and improved reports from teachers.


The headmaster of Mangesh’s school remarked that being a part of the Magic Bus sessions has now become an incentive for children to attend school more regularly. Without the explanatory and incentive structure of Magic Bus sessions, many children may not realise the far-reaching consequences of education. Having the Mentors and peer group reiterate the importance of attendance and good grades will change the way children view education and themselves.


Gender Equity


Fehmida is from the Bombay Port Trust slum community in Mumbai. When Magic Bus initially entered her community, she was nervous and reluctant to attend the sessions. Furthermore, her parents only consented to her involvement with Magic Bus after a discussion on her outfits to play sports in. 


She states now that prior to Magic Bus, she had been taught that boys and girls should not be friends, and thus she refused to interact with the boys at sessions, through conversation or games. Over time, she learnt that being friends with boys was not wrong or inappropriate, and began to see their interactions in a different, more positive way. Through playing sport, the boys and girls in Fehmida’s Magic Bus group were able to realise that boys and girls are equally capable, and this type of learning perpetuated itself as the gender divides steadily fell away.


Social change is a complex and gradual process that does not progress in a linear manner. The use of sport as a pedagogical tool enables repetition of messaging through a medium that is engaging and participatory. Thoughtful programming and messaging enables Magic Bus to optimize the positive effects of sport and mentor children successfully on a journey from childhood to livelihood.


* UNICEF definition, 2013



Rahul Brahmbhatt |