Monday, 31 December 2012

Mid-day meal’s Role in Bringing School Drop-outs Back to Class

It is Wednesday – that day of the week when the children are allowed a day off from their uniforms. There is unusual silence in the school; the students are busy writing their half-yearly examinations, at the Government Higher Primary School Boovanhalli.  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 come out of the classrooms for lunch.

The teachers are ready. They have opened large steel vessels of rice and sambhar. The children begin to queue 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, one of the teachers 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 conversation with the teachers reveals that children drop out of school due to various reasons. Renuka, a Kannada teacher at the school says, “During the census when we find that there are considerable numbers of children who are school drop outs, we conduct a summer camp called ‘chinnara angala’.  In this camp 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 facilities that are being extended in the government school.”

A framed picture of the principal receiving an award from former President of India, A.P.J Abdul Kalam adorns the wall of the staff room. The teachers brim with pride, they explain that the principal of the school received the President’s Award for his contribution to the field of education.  When asked about the mid-day meal programme, he says, “Earlier we used to cook the mid-day meal at the school premises. Though the children enjoyed the food, it was a huge responsibility on us to ensure that the food is cooked on time, the vegetables are bought, cleaned and stored, the vessels are washed, etc. But today, with Akshaya Patra providing the cooked mid-day meal, we have to only supervise the serving. The food is good, regular feedbacks are taken by supervisors, so we have nothing to worry. All is well.”

It is the cumulative effort of schools like this that has resulted in the literacy rate of nearly 75% * 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. What makes the meal special? In their words, “sudta ide”, which translates into- “the meal is always piping hot.”

*As per provisional results of the Census of 2011Aks


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