It is said that the Mid-Day Meal scheme in schools has a long history in India. Sources say that it was way back in 1925 that a Mid Day Meal Program was introduced for disadvantageous children in Madras Municipal Corporation. By the mid 1980s three states viz. Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the UT of Pondicherry had universalized a cooked Mid Day Meal Program with their own resources for children studying at the primary stage. By 1990-91 the number of states implementing the Mid Day Meal program with their own resources on a universal and large scale had increased to twelve.
Today the Mid Day Meal scheme is one of the flagship programs of the govt. of India and it is implemented by the state governments with the objective of “No child shall be deprived of education because of lack of food”. And with a view to enhance the enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improve the nutritional levels among children, the National Program of Nutritional Support to Primary Education was launched in as centrally sponsored scheme on 15th August 1995.
Thus, as can be seen from the above prelude on the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, nobody can deny that the intention and logic behind the Mid-Day Meal Scheme is very noble and splendid. In a country like India where majority of the children who go to govt. schools are from very poor families, the logic and the goal behind the Mid-Day Meal Scheme assumes even a more gigantic proportion. So this article is not against the MDM Scheme or the logic and intention behind it. Far from it, I give my utmost respect and tribute to the pioneers of this splendid idea and practice of providing free meal to the children in schools with a view to ensure that no child is deprived of learning due to lack of food.
However, as a person who has seen and experienced first-hand the implementation of this noble project, I would like to share here some of the practical difficulties and some matters to ponder about in the implementation and monitoring of this noble scheme especially with reference to the Middle and Primary schools located here in Kohima.
1) First and foremost, a school is a teaching-learning institute and not a cooking-eating institute. And therefore in a school, no other thing, scheme or program should take precedence over the teaching-learning activity. Or else, the very purpose behind the establishment of schools or any other learning institute would not materialize. And many a times, it is seen that the teaching-learning activity in schools is being hindered, disturbed, obstructed and preceded by the implementation by this MDM scheme.
2) The logic behind the assertion ‘no child should be deprived of education due to lack of food’ seems to be very noble and righteous. However, if that is the case, the implementation of the MDM scheme may literally convert schools into kitchens as well wherein both the teaching-learning process and the cooking-eating matter will have to go side by side thereby adversely effecting the teaching-learning environment.
3) It is almost impossible to strictly enforce and implement the MDM scheme both in letter and spirit because most of the schools are not provided with the needed resources, manpower and infrastructure for it.
4) Some of the Primary schools do not even have fourth grade staffs. So the question naturally comes up as to who should do the cooking. Teachers go to school to teach and not to cook. And therefore most teachers would not readily agree to do extra work without any remuneration. Forget about cooking everyday for the children, most teachers would not agree to cook even once in a month. Moreover, cooking is not everybody’s cup of tea.
5) Some schools are situated in congested areas and some of these schools do not even have separate kitchens. And so when these schools are to cook, they have to either cook in the school corridors / verandahs or after suspending some classes in order to empty rooms for the cooking purpose. And as is obvious, this creates lots of nuisance and mayhem in the school thereby severely affecting the teaching-learning process.
6) Moreover, I guess there is no scientific proof to indicate that a child with a fully fed stomach will learn better than a child who is not. Rather, a child who has just eaten a sumptuous meal may feel sleepy and dizzy and may doze off easily rather than staying alert for the class. So a light refreshment may serve the purpose better than a sumptuous meal.
7) Another point to ponder about is the quality and hygiene of the meals cooked. As mentioned above, some schools do not even have proper kitchens and 4th grade staffs. Under such a scenario, the teachers themselves have to do the cooking. And under such circumstances, the teachers would be cooking only out of obligation and out of fear of reprimand from higher authority. Therefore their heart and soul may not be there in the cooking activity. And under such a scenario, the quality and hygiene of the cooked meals come under scanner because when one is unable to put one’s heart and soul into one’s work, the end product is always found to be wanting. And if the children are made to eat such hastily and improperly cooked meals, it may do them more harm than good.
8) Unlike in some parts of India where there are many who are on the verge of starvation, the case of the Nagas is relatively better. I guess even the poorest of the poor amongst the Nagas can somehow arrange daily minimal food for their children without much struggle. So in the case of school-going children in Nagaland, the matter is not as serious or desperate as in other parts of the country.
9) If the needed resources, infrastructure and manpower are available, there is no harm for our schools also to cook and feed the children. But still then, I would want our children to go to school expecting to learn rather than to eat.
10) As far as monitoring and evaluating the performance of the schools in the implementation of the MDM scheme is concerned, it is an uphill task for the implementing authority to collect correct and genuine details from the schools. However, it should be the effort of all within and outside the school to ensure that the MDM resources are utilized judiciously for the ultimate benefit of the students. And to guarantee this, transparency is a prime necessity.
11) Yes, transparency is needed in official establishments and it works well also in many wonderful ways. But transparency also has its own dark sides and sometimes the thing called ‘official secrecy’ may help better. And as such, authorities manning public establishments should be given the free hand and autonomy to decide when to maintain ‘transparency’ or ‘official secrecy’ as per the prevalent situation in his / her offices. Divulging official information at the wrong time and to the wrong people may create more setbacks.
12) Lastly, if the government really wishes this MDM scheme to realize its full potential and target, then I would recommend the govt. to appoint full-fledged MDM personnel / officials for every elementary and primary schools. And entrust these MDM personnel with all the works related to the MDM scheme. Let the teachers teach and let these MDM personnel oversee the cooking and eating activity. Hand over the MDM resources to these personnel and let them be accountable for the judicious utilization of the MDM resources. And let these MDM personnel also be entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the records and submitting the various MDM reports to the concerned authorities so that the teachers would not be unnecessarily harassed for any lapses and failings in this matter. As is often said, a man cannot serve two masters and therefore let us separate the teaching-learning part and the cooking-eating part. It is quite impossible for teachers to teach and cook at the same time.
As mentioned above, this article is not against the MDM scheme. Here I only highlight some of the practical difficulties and things to ponder about in the implementation of the MDM scheme and it is my hope and prayer that better ideas and performances in the implementation of the MDM scheme will emerge out of this article…