We may all have hated the idea as children but it is true that mom knows best. This is what the mid-day meal scheme in Andhra Pradesh shows. While the scheme covers children up to the primary level only throughout the country, in Andhra, even upper primary school children get a healthy meal, thanks to the involvement of mothers. And the food is better than the stuff indifferent hands ladle out elsewhere.
The mothers are members of 67,000 self-help groups and serve nutritious food to over 62 lakh children every day. It is no easy task but according to Education Secretary V Krishaniah, there have just been three complaints about the quality of food in one whole year. What’s more, “the effective implementation of the scheme has resulted in the dropout rate falling from 42 lakh in 2003-04 to 24 lakh in 2005-06”.
The change is all too evident in schools in Orvakal mandal in Kurnool. The Mandal Mahila Samakhya — a federation of SHGs — is responsible for the implementation of the scheme; the members are mostly mothers of primary school students. So far, they have provided cooking utensils to 37 schools. The SHGs provide loans to the mothers whenever needed so the scheme does not suffer. “After all, it is our children who are going to suffer if they don’t get fresh, quality food,” says a member.
But most mothers say there is scope for improvement and the Rs 2 provided for each child is not nearly enough. “We wish we could add more items to the lunch. The Rs 2 is not even sufficient for the dal and curry we give with the rice, which is free,” says a member at Pudicerla primary school.
One of the reasons why the scheme is such a success is because those involved are always looking at ways to better it. The government recently started a pilot project to mark student attendance by taking their fingerprints. “There is suspicion the attendance rate is jacked to claim more money,” Krishaniah says.