Mid-day meal: The casual fill up
The Government might have succeeded in luring the kids from backward and poverty stricken families to schools with the promise of mid day meals, but is it actually successful in doing justice to what it serves up at break time is yet another tale to be told.
Across India in most of the states, the mid-day meal programme of the government primary schools has turned out to be more or less a casual carrying out of a formality. And thus, be it the rural or urban primary schools, the need for introspection is too grave to be ignored.
Whether it is the way the food is cooked, or the way it is stored. Whether it is the way children are fed, where they are fed or when they are fed, hygienic conditions, nutritional requirements, sufficient amounts served, all need to be looked into; for the mid day meal programme across the country lacks in one or all of these aspects.
Whenever the programme has been checked via surprise visits, there have been lacunae so vast that they can hardly be over looked. Somewhere you find teachers too busy to supervise the food distribution and at others the infrastructure supporting the programme is found missing. There are schools in many states which do not even have a proper kitchen to make it possible to cook meals. Many have make shift arrangements and at others the food is cooked in neighbouring villages and sent to the school.
Children are not even directed to wash hands before eating and worse still; some schools even lack chairs and tables or for that matter enough utensils. With children eating with their hands, from dirty utensils, sitting on the dusty floor, one really wonders what purpose are we serving here.
The incidents of lizards and cockroaches finding their way into these break time meals of children have been many. But even if one decides to overlook these exceptional cases, there is nothing to put the mind at ease.
There is a lot that needs to be done. To begin with the government needs to understand that just providing meals is not enough. Schools need storage as well as cooking space, in order to ensure that the food is cooked hygienically to avoid food poisoning or other unhealthy conditions.
The infrastructure needs to be built to ensure children eat properly, sitting on chairs with tables and have spoons. Guidelines need to be issued for teachers and sufficient staff needs to be recruited to supervise the children at meal time. Built away from the classrooms the kitchen should be safe and all should be equipped with fire extinguishers and inflammable materials and chimneys.
With numerous stories surrounding the mid day meals at schools, highlighting the callous and insensitive attitude of one and all concerned; it is time this vital aspect of primary education is taken care of more seriously.
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