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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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