Getting a healthy meal to each kid in schools in Andhra Pradesh is now a reality, courtesy the mothers. Unlike rest of the country, where the scheme is till the primary level, the state serves food to children till upper primary level --- that is class VII.
Serving nutritious food to over 62 lakh children every day with the help of 67,000 Self Help Groups (SHGs), is no way an easy task. In a year, state’s education secretary V Krishaniah says there have been just three complaints about bad quality of food served. “The effective implementation of the scheme has resulted in drop out rate falling from 42 lakh in 2003-04 to 24 lakh in 2005-06,” he added.
A visit to schools in Orvakal mandal of Kurnool district can showcase how the change has been brought about by the world’s biggest midday meal scheme for school children.
Mandal Mahila Samakhya, a federation of Self Help Groups of women, has taken upon itself the responsibility of implementing the scheme. The members of the group are mostly mothers of the children studying in primary schools.
Spending Rs one lakh from the interest on their investment, they have provided cooking utensils to 37 schools in the Mandal. The SHGs also provide loans to mother groups whenever needed so that the scheme does not suffer. “After all it is our children who are going to suffer if they don't get fresh and good quality food,” explained a member of the group.
But most members of SHGs said that the Rs two provided for food for each kid is not sufficient. “We wish we could add more items to the school lunch. I think an amount of two rupees is not sufficient even for the dal and curry we give in addition to the rice which is supplied free of cost,” said a woman cooking sambhar at Pudicerla primary school.
While Krishaniah says there has been no study to state that the nutrition level in children has improved because of the scheme, the mothers’ believe there has been marked improvement in their children’s health. “We don’t have to worry for at least one good meal for my boy,” said Radhinamma, who cooks food at Sudhimeta primary school.
Now, the state government is looking at technology for effective monitoring of the scheme. A pilot project for marking student attendance by taking fingerprints has been started in a few schools. “There is always some suspicion that the attendance rate is jacked to claim more money under the mid-day meal scheme. Through the pilot project we want to see whether the attendance being shown is real or not,” Krishaniah said.
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