It is Wednesday. There is unusual silence in the school; the students are busy writing their half-yearly examinations. As the time inches towards 1 ’O’ clock, a few students trickle out of the examination hall, and in a matter of minutes the ringing of the school bell ensures the children flood out of the classrooms.
The teachers are ready. They have opened large steel vessels of rice and sambar. The children begin to queue up for their share of the mid day meal. There are friendly pushes as each child is eager to get his share faster than the other. G. Shahabuddin, a teacher who has been teaching at the Government Higher Primary School Boovanhalli, says, “The children have benefited from the mid day meal programme. Parents of most children leave early for work and return only late in the evening. So not every child is able to get lunch, hence it is this mid day meal which ensures that children don’t go hungry.”
A chat with the teachers reveals that children drop out of school due to various reasons. They say, “The trend is not surprising in spite of the fact that in the last few years parents have understood the need for education. They explain that because of the poor economic conditions in the family, the parents are forced to send the child to work or take care of the younger siblings at home.”
The efforts of the teachers are making a huge difference. In the last few years, they have constantly attempted to bring these children back to school. Renuka, a kannada teacher at the school says, “During the census when we find that there are considerable number of children who are school drop outs, we conduct a summer camp called ‘chinnara angala’. We ensure that we talk to the parents and convince them that in spite of the difficulties at home, it is their responsibility to ensure that the children attend school. We also tell them about the mid day meal programme and the other facilitiefacilities extended in the government school.” Children like Rajeshwari, Ashok and Uday stand as testimony to the teachers’ efforts.
Raji comes back to school
Rajeshwari’s father owned a meat stall and her mother set up a small dosa stall outside the house to supplement the family income. Raji as she introduces herself was then studying in grade 1, dropped out of school to take care of the younger siblings. With complete innocence, she admits, “I used to tender change at the cash counter. My mother’s business did very well because her dosas were very tasty.” It’s just about a few months now that Raji has been able to get back to regular schooling. She now studies in grade four.
Uday comes to school again
Ashok and Uday too have similar stories to share. Ashok has got back to school after a gap of five years. Uday has returnedto regular schooling after two years. Ashok was sent to his sister’s house to take care of his niece. Uday was in grade two when he lost his mother and that forced him to quit schooling and play a role of a care taker at an age when he himself would have needed parental care and affection. And now, they are back in school. Ashok is a good athlete who has brought laurels for the school and Uday is brilliant at studies and tops the class. The teacher says, “Apart from our efforts, the mid day meal has ensured that children like them could get back to school. Parents have one hungry stomach less to feed. But without the mid day meal, these children could not have realized their potential.”
It is the cumulative effort of schools like this that has resulted in the increase of literacy rate of nearly 10% from 57% in 2001 to 67% in 2011* in the district of Bellary in Karnataka. The school’s enrolment data shows that 900 children are studying this academic year, 443 girls and 457 boys attend school regularly. A few will drop out of school by the time they reach grade 10, but there will be many who will continue to study. Most will opt to continue their studies in ITI and Diploma courses. The teachers of this school in Toranagallu will continue to praise the students who have passed out of the school and today are role models for their juniors.
For many of them, Akshaya Patra meal has been the most filling and nutritious meal of the day. mother and that forced him to quit schooling and play a role of a care taker at an age when he himself would have needed parental care and affection. And now, they are back in school. Ashok is a good athlete who has brought laurels for the school and Uday is brilliant at studies and tops the class. The teacher says, “Apart from our efforts, the mid day meal has ensured that children like them could get back to school. Parents have one hungry stomach less to feed. But without the mid day meal, these children could not have realized their potential.”
What makes the meal special? In their words, “sudta ide”, which translates into the meal, that is always “piping hot.”