Tackling Classroom Hunger and Making Children Better Equipped for the Future
Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa
Global Sustainable Development (SDG) goals state ‘Zero Hunger’ asone of its 17 goals for world development. The various global SDGs have been developed to uplift the society and aid the marginalised and underserved section of the society with opportunities to grow. To address these SDGs, the Government of India has implemented various schemes. One such scheme which directly impacts the goal of Zero Hunger is Mid-Day Meal Scheme. The MDM scheme started by the Government of India under the umbrella of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been developed to tackle classroom hunger, one of the major concerns plaguing our society; while providing and facilitating quality education, another global SDG.
It is in affirmative cognisance that the right approach for a country’s better future is by enabling the right kind of education to the future generation. Strong foundation of nutritious food and education ensures healthy, empowered and mobile individuals. These two extremely vital factors are still a privilege than a way of life for many children in India.
According to the Food Security and Nutrition 2017 report, 190.7 million people in India are undernourished, thus stating that 14.5 percent of the population in India is undernourished. The figures are overwhelming. Although there is absence of apathy, it is important to note that there is a dire need to provide continuous nutrition to millions of marginalised people in India. MDM programme provides a continuous measure of food security to millions of school-going children across India. These children feel a sense of achievement when their presence in the school and their active participation in the learning process is supported by the mid-day meals they receive everyday. This motivation to learn and dream big while being humbly rooted to reality is their gateway to a bright future where every child has the opportunity to aim high, dream big and be a responsible and mobile citizen of India.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”- Benjamin Franklin
It is the encouragement and assurance of daily nutritious meals that brings many children to school. Parents are also eager to send their children to school and not have to worry about their afternoon meals. Many a time, the mid-day meal provided by the government, often through its implementing partners, is the only meal the children have for that day. While this may be true for many children, classroom hunger remains an important concern that needs to be tackled every day for every child. Providing school going children with healthy meals to enable them to focus on the curricular and extra-curricular activities forms the basis on which the MDM programme is developed. It is this effort which will ensure that the leaders of the future are getting the right nutrition at their developmental age as an incentive for getting proper education.
“It is the guarantee of a nutritious meal that parents are more than willing to send their children to school rather than seeing them drop out of school to either work or learn household chores”
The marginalised and the underserved children of the society find this scheme beneficial. It is that dream of one hot meal which drives them to school and towards knowledge, which in turn, leads to an empowered life. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme serves multiple purposes- the first one being to provide healthy, nutritious meals to school-going children to help them in concentration and focus on gaining knowledge. With an objective to promote education, the Scheme is designed to:
1. Eradicate classroom hunger
2. Increase enrolment
3. Improve retention
4. Improve socialising among castes
5. Addressing malnutrition and
6. Promote gender equality
While the initiative has boosted enrollment and attendance, it has also helped improve students’ retention rates in schools. It has been observed that boys normally drop out of school to work and support their families while girls drop out to learn housework and aid their mother in taking care of the family. It is the guarantee of a nutritious meal that parents are more than willing to send their children to school rather than seeing them drop out of school to either work or learn household chores.
“We need to channelise efforts to prevent classroom hunger in the right direction; a direction which will lead to growth of children, the future of the country, and through them, our society”
The survey reports as released by the World Health Organisation is alarming; 60 million children in India are underweight. Again, a recent UNICEF’s report states that in India, 80 million children dropout of school before reaching eight years of age, and over eight million children are out of school. In view of this, a 2015 paper by International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR) indicates that attendance in MDM schools was higher compared to non-MDM schools, i.e., 86.50 percent in MDM schools compared to 82.90 percent innon-MDM schools (the statistics combines both rural and urban schools). It is clear from this that it is imperative the initiative should continue to ensure complete eradication of classroom hunger. Major findings of the PROBE (Public Report on Basic Education) – 2014 Report indicated that 84 percent of households reported that children get cooked mid-day meal in schools and children enjoy a varied menu.
To assure a good future for school children, no effort is ever enough. It is important to learn that knowledge when combined with the right intention can do wonders for the society. It is paramount that children are facilitated with such education. A child can only concentrate if its stomach is full and the mind is not awaiting food. We need to channelise efforts to prevent classroom hunger inthe right direction; a direction which will lead to growth of children, the future of the country, and through them, our society. It is an essential step in nation building. While this is true, it is also important to note that awareness and a community buy-in is essential for an inclusive growth of the society and its people.
With a continuous increase in population, life circle keeps expanding and inter dependency keeps intensifying. In a world full of diverse thoughts and ideas, survival takes a new turn. The path of knowledge and growth sees newer openings and opportunities to ensure goodness and growth in every corner of the world. It is imperative that every child receive education while ensuring that they are provided with wholesome and nutritious mid-day meals for their healthy growth.
Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa is Chairman, The Akshaya Patra Foundation. He has been instrumental in conceiving and implementing many social initiatives that impact millions of people in this country, giving them a better quality of life.