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The mid-day scare: What is the solution?

Mid-Day Meal Scheme

Sunday, Aug 4, 2013

Agency: DNA

Gujarat was one of the first states to break away from the school-based decentralised kitchen model and go for a centralised kitchen system run by Akshaya Patra in parts of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.

In wake of the terrible mid-day meal (MDM) tragedy in Bihar that caught everyone’s attention, several opinions are being presented on how the world’s largest school-feeding programme covering more than 12 crore children ought to run. Ever since the Supreme Court mandated that the MDM scheme should serve hot, cooked meals, the alternative approach to give dry rations or ready-to-eat snacks like biscuits, ground nuts etc became non-available. Since cooked, hot meal has to be compulsorily served to schoolchildren in around 12.65 lakh schools, the issue is whether the cooking has to be decentralised, based in each school or if a common, centralized kitchen to serve a manageable number of schools is a better alternative.
Not many would know that the first attempt to serve mid-day meals to schoolchildren was in Chennai by the British in 1925 and was later followed by the French in Pondicherry! In India, Tamil Nadu was the first state to start MDM on a big scale. Gujarat was the second state to introduce this in 1984. This massive programme aims to achieve universalisation of primary education by attracting maximum attendance through the mid-day meal and raise the nutritional status of the children, since India scores poorly on the hunger and the nutritional status of children worldwide.
To overcome the oft-repeated complaints about the MDM scheme such as poor quality of the cooked meals, poor taste, pilferage of ration and occasional adulteration, Gujarat was one of the first states to break away from the school-based decentralised kitchen model and go for a centralised kitchen system run by Akshaya Patra in parts of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. Later on, this was introduced in Vadodara city and nearby talukas.
Akshaya Patra operates a central kitchen in top hygienic conditions and in factory-like operations, cooks meals and packs the food in hot boxes and through customised vans, supplies tasty, hot food to thousands of schoolchildren. Ever since this experiment was introduced, it has led to more attendance, higher percentage of children eating the meals and almost zero complaints of quality and taste of food. It has also ended all complaints of pilferage of the dry rations and vegetables.
It is a herculean task and almost impossible to expect quality monitoring in a decentralised system in more than 12 lakh schools in the country. Organizers of the MDM centre are poorly paid, contractual staff, least motivated about and committed to the programme. To expect the teachers to taste the food may not be practical and would not guarantee quality or taste. In the Gujarat model, the entire amount is given to the NGO which also manages to get tax-free donations in order to add to the quality of the programme. A third-party audit on the cooking materials and the cooked food would ensure that the desired quality is maintained.
The primary job of a school and its teachers is to build characters and impart quality education. To expect them to undertake supervision of a mid-day meal scheme is fraught with risks. A good scheme, which encourages quality NGOs or firms to take up the MDM scheme as is done in Gujarat, is certainly a better alternative than lakhs of decentralised kitchens all over the country.
The author is municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad

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Centralized kitchens more feasible for midday meals

Mid-Day Meal Scheme

23 July 2013

The Alternative

Roties and a paste of red chillies – this is what seven-year old Kishan Lal Gameti, from the village of Jogiyon Ka Gura in Rajasthan, would have for lunch. And it isn’t as if he got to eat lunch every day.

Orphaned at four, Kishan lives with his grandparents and loves school because he has never eaten food like this at home before.

To their credit, his maternal grandparents, have tried their best to see that Kishan got at least one piece of roti in a day. “It’s alright if we miss our share, but he’s a growing boy.” Looking around their crumbling mud hut with pieces of assorted plastic and flattened tin sheets serving as a roof, it’s evident that they would love to do more but they just don’t have the money or strength for it.

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Bihar, it has been most disappointing to see politicians embroiled in the usual blame-game politics. We must await the HRD Ministry’s report and take immediate action instead of politicizing the issue. It is tragedies like these that you expect to rile the political classes to unify in a quest for the truth.

The chief reason for the Bihar tragedy was an absolute lack of monitoring on the part of mandal block authorities. It goes without saying that a programme on this scale requires meticulous quality control and stringent monitoring systems in place. We were invited by the state government in 2003, when the Midday Meal was mandated, to setup a central kitchen in Hyderabad. The centralized kitchen approach we follow in Hyderabad is, perhaps, one of the more feasible models around. The 2 acre-large kitchen exemplifies how best to tackle the scale and logistics involved in the country’s largest feeding programme. Feeding more than 120,000 kids across 1035 schools in Hyderabad over the past decade, we have gradually come to find the optimal balance required in running an operation of this scale. On a national level, we cater to over a million kids across four states (Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha). Toll-free numbers provided to parents ensure that both the district authority as well a Naandi contact person is available at all times.

Gamana Lal, Kishan Lal’s grandfather has visited the school and seen with his own eyes that the meals are being served and that Kishan and the other children will actually getting unlimited helpings of the meal.“I heard from neighbours that the government school had started giving very tasty food for students at lunch. I owed it to Kishan to send him to school,” he said.

Kishan, on his part, returns the favour by packing a little of the meal he gets at school into a plastic bag for his “nana, nani.”

I like the sweet dalia and dal batti the best!” It has been almost 3 years and Kishan has since gained 2 kgs. He now hopes to bring his older brother and younger sister, who live with his paternal uncles, back to the village so that they too can enjoy the afternoon lunch like he does.

The kitchen is a state-of-the-art, all mechanized, sterilized facility. The centralized model also holds the advantage of being a single point location where we welcome government officials to visit and conduct surprise checks. Our dedicated staff taste all food prepared at the facility before it’s served to the children. In the case of Saran, processes were clearly not in place. Quality of food in the Bihar chapter of the Midday meal has been cause for concern for some time now. But above all else, not heeding the quality complaints from the children themselves was the greatest lapse of all!

Having handled operations of this scale closely over the past decade, I can merely speculate. It is my belief that there was an oversight on the part of the authorities, and perhaps a failure to notice that the oil used in the food may have been stored in pesticide containers.

(Ms. Leena Joseph is the National Director of Naandi Foundation’s Midday Meal Programme and has been associated with the programme since its inception in 2003)

It takes an average cost of Rs. 440 to feed a child per year.

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20 children die after eating mid-day meal in Bihar school

Mid-Day Meal Scheme

NDTV

17-07-2013

20 young children have died in Bihar and more than 30 are in hospital, allegedly due to food-poisoning from the free mid-day meal at a government-run primary school near Chhapra in the central part of the state.

Most of the children who died were younger than 10.

The woman who cooked the meal is undergoing treatment at a hospital where she lies sedated. The children fell ill soon after eating the meal of rice, pulse and soyabean on Tuesday afternoon.

12 dead children were buried near the school, as hundreds of angry protesters in Chhapra demanded severe action against the school. Relatives alleged that many children who were critical had died due to negligence and delays by the hospital.

As Bihar tried to come to terms with the horrific tragedy, state Education Minister PK Shahi said preliminary inquiries revealed the food had traces of an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops. “The food may not have been washed before it was served at the school,” he said.

According to some reports, only children who ate the soyabean had been affected. Locals said the dish had been cooked in bad, poisonous oil.

“This is an example that we should exercise more caution when it comes to mid-day meals provided to children,” said Union Education Minister Pallam Raju. The Centre has sent an official to investigate the deaths.

A case has been registered against the school’s headmistress Meena Devi and other teachers.

“The children came back crying from school and complained of a stomach ache after having dal, rice and vegetables. We went to the school to find out and saw many children lying sick,” said a distraught parent whose child is being treated in hospital.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered an inquiry and announced a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to the families of the children.

The opposition BJP, which was dumped recently by the chief minister after a 17-year partnership, was quick to blame the Nitish Kumar government. “This is criminal negligence and the state government is responsible for this.”

Chhapra is the Lok Sabha constituency of former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who said, “This is happening everywhere in Bihar. I will see who is responsible for this.”

In Bihar, widespread corruption has been reported in the mid-day meal scheme, the world’s largest school-feeding programme that reaches out to some 12 crore children in schools across the country.

Bihar Food Minister Shyam Rajak said as per procedure, the school administration was given a cheque and they were responsible for buying the rations.

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India: Mid-Day Meal Scheme Lacks Enthusiasm In Toto – Analysis

Government run schools, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Quality

The mid-day meal scheme in rural areas of Punjab has failed to achieve the goal of Universalization of Elementary Education as prescribed by the UN Millennium Development Goals (2000) and followed by Government of India. Total Enrollment of selected schools belonging to three districts, namely, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, and Gurdaspur Districts of Rural Punjab was 33085 during the base year (average of 2007 to 2009). This enrollment declined to 31667 during the current year (average of 2010-12). Almost similar decline with varying degree was noticed in all the three selected districts. However the decline in enrollment of girls’ students was slightly more than their boys’ counterpart.

Moreover, the enrollment in primary standard of the selected districts of Rural Punjab has declined by 2.35 per cent which is attributed to the bogus admission made in the base period. In Upper Primary Section, Base year Enrollment was 10583 and Current year Enrollment was 11124. However, the enrollment in the upper primary standard has shown an improvement (the percentage change in the enrollment was 105.11).

These facts are revealed from in-depth analysis under taken by Dr Gursharan Singh Kainth ICSSR Senior Fellow of Amritsar based Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies. The study is restricted to Majha region of rural areas of Punjab consisting of three districts, namely, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran and a part of the bigger project sponsored by Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, Ministry of Human Resources Government of India under their Senior Fellowship Program.

Another salient feature of the analysis is that a lion share of the enrollment at the elementary schools was claimed by the Schedule caste (SC) and schedule tribes (ST), their percentage being 69.36 per cent. In addition 17.66 per cent belong to Other Backward Categories (OBCs). Apparently, government schools are dominated by the reserved categories students due to obvious reason. The question arises: Why the other categories parents did not sent their students to these government schools. This needs a thorough examination.

In almost all the schools there was shortage of teaching staff because of unplanned opening of elementary schools in the rural areas.

Moreover, one-fourth of the schools have only up to two teachers whereas minimum classes in these schools are five. The government has recommended the number of teachers according to the strength of students i.e. one teacher for 30 students. But these norms should be revised. These norms should be set on the basis of number of classes but not on the basis of number of students. Due to lack of teachers, there is a negative impact on the study of children. During the survey it was observed that there is no academic atmosphere in the school due to lack of teaching staff. There should be at least one teacher for every class irrespective of the student strength. There is a strong need to rationalize the opening of school.

The study further reveals total lack of enthusiasm in the implementation of the scheme in too and found lopsided functioning on various components of the schemes. Under MDM scheme the government provide food grains like wheat, rice etc. to the schools. But schools are not getting food grains on time and in short. In most of schools, there is a negative balance of food grains due to which they are unable to provide the food to children as per menu specified by government under Mid Day Meal Scheme. The government provides food grains gunny bags with specified quantity. But generally the schools get less quantity of food grains. There are many holes on the gunny bags of food grains and the quantity is less even up to 15 kgs. School authorities have to accept those gunny bags due to shortage of supply and under pressure. Quality of food grains at the initial stage was below average, but there is a continuous improvement in the quality of food grains. Moreover, there is lack of scientific storage of grains in the school premises, although some schools are provided with bins.

For storing the food grains, drums are not available in majority of the schools. Shortage of drums couple with insufficient space for storage, no proper caring of food grains etc. results into wastage of food grains. Moreover food grains also get exhausted when they are not properly stored.

Under MDM Scheme, Schools are facing the acute scarcity of funds. They do not get enough funds on time. Their funds are showing the negative balances from last many years. Generally one fourth or little more than that of the monthly expenditure is reimbursed to schools rendering school funds into negatives which cumulative balance into thousands. Even funds are delayed for months- some schools had reported negative balance of more than Rs 25 thousands and even up to Rs 50 thousand. The question again arises: How they manage the scheme?

Moreover schools with less strength are easily getting funds whereas schools with more strength are not getting any funds which have resulted into negative balances. For smooth functioning of MDM scheme, the schools authorities are investing their personal cash or borrow from the grocers.

Although cook- cum- helpers are appointed in all the schools but they are not trained. Moreover, they lack enthusiasm again due to delayed payments even up to four to six months. Moreover, they demand that their remuneration should be increased and provided on time to them.

Cooks should be appointed in schools on permanent basis. According to schools, only those cooks should be appointed in the schools that have some degree in cooking. They must be fully trained in cooking Under MDM schemes, schools are provided gas cylinders for cooking foods. Schools are facing the problem of shortage of gas cylinders.

Moreover, in most of schools the delivery of gas cylinders is not easily available. They have to cover long distance and pay more fright for getting gas cylinders. In some schools, gas cylinders have been stolen or there is a fear of stealing of gas cylinders. Due to these problems, the schools do not prefer to use gas cylinders for making food. Although the government has banned the use of cow dungs, firewood etc. due to their ill-effects but still most of schools are using this firewood and cow dung paste for making food because these are easily available. Less cost is involved in their procurement. The main disadvantage of using firewood is health problems to cooks and children.

In majority of schools, utensils are not provided to children for eating. Children bring their own utensils from their homes. Half an hour is not sufficient for distribution of food to the children. More time is involved which results into negative impact on studies. Hence there is wastage of time in washing the utensils after fooding.

Moreover, time span for fooding is very little. The government should provide utensils to schools authorities for serving the food to children. Cooking utensils are also inadequate in many schools. The most liked dish of the menu was Karri Chawal followed by Dal Chawal. Sweet rice was least liked by the students in almost all the schools and needs to be replaced with salty rice in the menu.

Alternatively curd should be provided with the sweet rice. Children insist that there must be some alteration in food menu. According to them, Rajma-chawal, Cheese, Dalia, fruits, green vegetables, Salty rice, curd etc should be added in the menu. The government should also make alteration in the food menu after considering the preferences of children or school authority may be permitted to change the menu according to local conditions.

Eurasia Review, 28 January 2012

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Private schools to provide free meals for poor?

Mid-Day Meal Scheme

If the Planning Commission were to have its way then private schools will soon have to assume greater responsibility in educating children of economically weaker sections (EWS) of the society.

Apart from reserving 25 per cent of their seats for the EWS category under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, unaided schools – the plan panel feels – should now also provide free meals to these underprivileged students.

For this, the planning body has mooted a proposal (also mentioned in the approach paper of the 12th Five Year Plan) to extend the mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) to the unaided schools as well. According to sources, the ministry of human resource development (HRD) is also keen on this.

The intention, though noble, is sure to ruffle feathers among private schools in the country as they are already unhappy over the introduction of compulsory reservation for EWS children. In fact, private schools in some cases have gone to court to challenge this clause of the RTE Act.

“There is no reason why a poor child should be denied the benefits of the mid-day meal scheme just because he or she is studying in a private school. We are still mulling over how this can be implemented in unaided schools, and the government will reimburse the cost of the meal along with cooking cost to them,” an official of the Planning Commission, who is not authorised to speak to the media, said.

The mid-day meal scheme run by the HRD ministry is the world’s largest school feeding programme, which reaches out to about 12 crore school children in government and government-aided schools in the country. Free meals are served with the aim of enhancing enrollment, retention and attendance and simultaneously also improve nutritional levels among children.

About 17 per cent of elementary schools in the country are run by private entities. According to the planning body, extending MDMS to EWS children in the private schools should not be too tough for the first couple of years as the number of children admitted through this category is quite small right now.

There are, however, a number of unanswered questions on the implementation of the proposal.


India Today
, 5 December 2011

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Children’s condition: Wither demographic dividend?

Finances & Budgets, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Quality

India and the international community have been talking about the demographic dividend that India should reap until mid-century. United Nations Population Division data indeed reveal that the share of the working age group of 15-64 years in total population will grow in South Asia until 2040, in some until 2045, and in Afghanistan until 2075. The challenge is to convert this population into productive citizens through nutrition and education. It is just like the challenge of converting savings into productive investment rather than into non-performing assets as has emerged increasingly in Indian banking experience. Also, the rural-to-urban migration will be steep in all of South Asia, with urban India reaching 50 per cent of population by 2050, adding a further onerous dimension of absorptive capacity and implied social infrastructure – health and education – needs into this witch’s brew.

Who will finance this need in India? In 2010, those with a daily expenditure of $10 to $100 a day comprised less than 5 per cent of India’s population in contrast to 20 per cent for Sri Lanka.1 This marginal economic class should find financing social infrastructure – nutrition and health – an uphill task unless every paisa is well spent in this endeavour. On top, the state of child nutrition and health is shocking. In 2005-06, 45 per cent of rural babies under three years were stunted, more than 40 per cent underweight, and more than 20 per cent wasted.2 For urban babies the numbers were 10 to 20 per cent less bad. Mother’s education had a strikingly salient effect on outcomes. Almost 55 per cent of babies of mothers who had not completed 10 years of education were stunted, 50 per cent underweight, and 25 per cent wasted. For mothers with that education, these numbers were 30 to 60 per cent less bad, quite a remarkable difference.

Education numbers appear less alarming. There is 100 per cent rural and urban primary (I-V) school enrollment for six- to 10-year-olds. For secondary (VI-VIII) level, it is 80 per cent for rural and 90 per cent for urban; for IX-X, 60+ per cent for rural and 80+ per cent for urban and; for XI-XII, 40 per cent for rural and 60 per cent for urban.3 Female attendance ratios decrease with levels of education, are 5 to 15 per cent less than those for male, but nevertheless are not as bad as one might expect.

India and the international community have been talking about the demographic dividend that India should reap until mid-century. United Nations Population Division data indeed reveal that the share of the working age group of 15-64 years in total population will grow in South Asia until 2040, in some until 2045, and in Afghanistan until 2075. The challenge is to convert this population into productive citizens through nutrition and education. It is just like the challenge of converting savings into productive investment rather than into non-performing assets as has emerged increasingly in Indian banking experience. Also, the rural-to-urban migration will be steep in all of South Asia, with urban India reaching 50 per cent of population by 2050, adding a further onerous dimension of absorptive capacity and implied social infrastructure – health and education – needs into this witch’s brew.

Who will finance this need in India? In 2010, those with a daily expenditure of $10 to $100 a day comprised less than 5 per cent of India’s population in contrast to 20 per cent for Sri Lanka.1 This marginal economic class should find financing social infrastructure – nutrition and health – an uphill task unless every paisa is well spent in this endeavour. On top, the state of child nutrition and health is shocking. In 2005-06, 45 per cent of rural babies under three years were stunted, more than 40 per cent underweight, and more than 20 per cent wasted.2 For urban babies the numbers were 10 to 20 per cent less bad. Mother’s education had a strikingly salient effect on outcomes. Almost 55 per cent of babies of mothers who had not completed 10 years of education were stunted, 50 per cent underweight, and 25 per cent wasted. For mothers with that education, these numbers were 30 to 60 per cent less bad, quite a remarkable difference.

Education numbers appear less alarming. There is 100 per cent rural and urban primary (I-V) school enrollment for six- to 10-year-olds. For secondary (VI-VIII) level, it is 80 per cent for rural and 90 per cent for urban; for IX-X, 60+ per cent for rural and 80+ per cent for urban and; for XI-XII, 40 per cent for rural and 60 per cent for urban.3 Female attendance ratios decrease with levels of education, are 5 to 15 per cent less than those for male, but nevertheless are not as bad as one might expect.

Discontinuation of education vitiates the enrollment figures. It increases with age, from negligible under five years of age, and 2 ½ per cent between six and 10 years, to 40 per cent among the 16-17 in rural, and 30 per cent in urban cohorts. The reasons for discontinuation are wrenching. Top reasons are financial constraints and disinterest. Strong corresponding reasons include the need to join the labour force and completion of desired education level. Discontinuation reveals a male-female divide on two grounds — marriage, and parents not interested in further studies of females. Thus, while Indian children are enrolling, many of them leave before completion reflecting the need to work primarily for males, or because females are packed off to marry; and the vicious cycle of under-age, under-nourished mothers bearing under-nourished babies keeps repeating. Some government programmes such as mid-day meals have helped retain children in school despite their many challenges and shortcomings, but the quality that makes education interesting is also a major factor in discontinuation. More revealing information can be gleaned from the surveys cited. From statistics alone it is clear that a demographic dividend cannot be realised at the current rates of nutrition and education.

Moving from the quantity of education, its quality is particularly suspect by Western standards for the majority of even privileged children. There is little standardisation in curricula, lesson plans or requirements, and testing varies widely. Even within a state, the method varies in different schools. One pervading expectation is that students should be able to memorise rather than be allowed to think freely or innovate.

The questions to ask here are: are we successfully changing systemic rote learning so that students are able to think independently? Can they appreciate a painting or have time to read a book and judge its merit by the time they are out of school? Are they allowed to express themselves, even if chaotically, if they wish to without being reprimanded? Can they critique the teaching of their teachers in class?

An incongruity appears to be the emphatic commendation of high achievers and a focus on the poorly faring – paradoxically, lucky – students whose performance needs to be improved in the interest of the school’s reputation. The middling majority is, more often than not, left to fend for itself, as it neither brings any glory nor poses any serious threat of disrepute. What lessons exist from other countries?

Let us remind ourselves that we celebrated Education Day this month. To take up the challenge of turning a probable demographic nightmare into a dividend, we have to be on a war footing. That could occur only with strong control and rapid dissipation of moral hazard, leakage, graft and corruption. That should, in turn, improve public expenditure productivity and outcomes by monitoring if school funds are being siphoned off or a child is being robbed of the right to a school meal. There is little time to lose or to get to work.

Business Standard, 21 November 2011

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