By: Pinki Ramaul
The Mid-Day Meal in School (MDMS) scheme being run in India has evolved into the world’s largest feeding programme ever since it was starting in August 15, 1995. Today it is commended as a comprehensive nutrition programme achieving a variety of objectives. A lot of credit for MDMS goes to human rights activists and judicial activism. However, it must be emphasised that MDM scheme is a supplement and not a substitute to home nutrition.
Various organisations and researchers have conducted studies to evaluate the performance and impact of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. There has been a consensus among various studies that MDMS has aided in active learning of children and indirectly improved their academic performance and learning achievement. MDMS is facilitating healthy growth of children, inculcating healthy eating habits and fostering social equality, with children from different castes and religions sitting and eating together. It is also minimising the impact of gender inequality in nutrition that is widely prevalent in our society.
In May 2010 the Programme Evaluation Organisation of the Planning Commission published a report titled ‘Performance Evaluation of Cooked Mid-Day Meal’. In this all-India study, Kangra and Kullu districts from Himachal Pradesh were also selected for the survey.
The study has highlighted the unfortunate fact that the percentage of utilisation to allotment of funds for MDMS is quite low in Himachal Pradesh. In comparison, Tamil Nadu and Meghalaya have utilised all the allocated funds. Similarly, the utilisation of foodgrains allocated is also low in Himachal Pradesh whereas, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya show a high percentage of utilisation of foodgrains. Utilisation of foodgrains can be an important indicator of the attendance of children in schools. For the successful implementation of MDMS, the provision of essential infrastructure is a must. The Evaluation Study points out that only 5 per cent schools in Himachal Pradesh have kitchen sheds as compared to 100 per cent in Tamil Nadu. Similarly only 10 percent schools in Himachal Pradesh have store rooms as compared to 73 per cent in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, plates and tumblers are available in only 15 per cent of schools in Himachal Pradesh as compared to 100 per cent in Rajasthan. Thus, students have to carry their utensils daily from their homes. This must be causing a lot of inconvenience to children. Worse, 25 per cent of the schools in Himachal Pradesh do not have toilet facility. In the present era of women empowerment, this situation is embarrassing for girl students.
One of the positive findings for Himachal Pradesh is that Meghalaya (91%), Karnataka (85%) and Himachal Pradesh (83%) have the highest per cent of sample schools with tap water connections. It must be followed up with installation of water purifiers in the schools to ensure clean and safe drinking water. Further, the teachers must inculcate in students hygienic habits like washing hands before taking their meals.
90 per cent of the children in Himachal opined that the quality of meal is good. However, only 70% of the parents opined that the quality of meal is good and remaining 30 per cent considered it to be average. However, the study also found that in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir children were found to be bringing their own lunch often, thus it seems that mid-day meal scheme is not a major attraction.
In the survey only 30 per cent of the teachers in Himachal Pradesh have attributed the increase in enrolment rate to mid-day meal scheme. However, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have mostly attributed the increase in enrolment to MDMS. Similarly only 38 per cent of the teachers in Himachal Pradesh have attributed the increase in attendance to mid-day meal scheme. However, Andhra Pradesh (100%), Uttar Pradesh (100%), Madhya Pradesh (91%) etc. have attributed the increase in attendance to MDMS. Further, only 38 per cent of the teachers in Himachal Pradesh have attributed the increase in retention rates to mid-day meal scheme. Contrast this with Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where all the teachers (100%) have attributed the increase in retention to MDMS.
There is a wide-spread belief that provision of MDM meal disrupts classroom processes, and that teachers spend more time in and supervising meal preparation than classroom teaching, but this is more a misconception than a fact. The study has noted that no teachers in Himachal Pradesh are engaged in cooking meals. However, teachers are engaged in the arrangement of provisions and serving meals. But this is an important assignment and should not hamper teaching-learning.
In maintenance of records and cash books Himachal Pradesh is classified in second grade. Some of the schools do not maintain proper records and documentation of MDMS. This should be corrected immediately, otherwise it may encourage misuse of funds and materials provided for MDMS.
The study has also pointed out that the involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies is quite high in Himachal Pradesh. This should be supported by greater participation of Non-Government Organisations, Women self-help groups and Mother Teacher Associations. This will promote greater community participation, and ensure transparency and accountability.
(The writer is principal, Trivenee School of Excellence, Paonta Sahib, HP)