By Yishey D
PROVIDING nutritious food to children in school helps address two key problems: hunger and education. Sikkim has found the answer to this call.
The hot cooked mid-day meals served to school children of Sikkim up to primary level (class I-V) from 2002 and from class VI-VIII since 2008 has had an affirmative effect not only on the retention of dropout rate, enhanced enrolment of children, particularly of girl child at the elementary level, but has also helped improve the health of students, besides helping the families to tide over the problems of hunger and malnutrition.
As per data available with the department, there is improvement of enrolment especially of the girl child from class six to eight. In 2008 – when the cooked meal started – the enrolment was 11,178 boys and 14, 285 girls. The figure jumped to 17,559 boys and 18,151 girls in 2013 academic session. However, enrolment in primary education decreased slightly. It was 30,941 boys and 31,524 girls in 2008, but decreased to 23,593 boys and 23,785 girls in 2013. This decrease in the primary level, the Director (Mid-Day Meal), HRD Department, Sikkim, Mr. M.P. Subbapoints out is due to people’s desire to send their children to private schools.
Overall, the above figures paint a rosy picture, but the Mid-Day Meal Cell in Sikkim doesn’t weigh success just in figures. They say they would better judge their achievement of the Mid-Day Meal scheme by the healthy look of the children and how best they enjoy the food, is that they add, is evident in Sikkim.
What could then be the indictors that dictate the Mid-Day Meal success story in Sikkim? Mr. Subba says, regular checks conducted by external agencies as well as by department officials, school heads, school management development committees, school management committees and Panchayats has ensured that food is cooked well and in clean environment conditions and teachers taste the food before serving it to children.
A survey on the scheme conducted by the external monitoring agency, ‘Himalayan Educational Society’ in 2011-12 in schools in west and south districts of Sikkim, found the quality of the food served in the schools to the liking of the students as over 95 percent of the students and even the teachers who don’t bring lunch ate at schools. The survey report presented to the department also revealed that the food was cooked in hygienic conditions, though there were complaints of delay in supply of food grains to remote schools.
Not just this, the Mid-Day Meal Cell, following guidelines of the Supreme Court has also ensured change in menu, and on a weekly basis in Sikkim. The State had initially started with rice and lentils. The new menu features rice, khichdi, dal, leafy (organic) vegetables, khir, achar, etc – all cooked in a style (local style) liked by the children. “I have strictly told all schools to serve eggs or meat to children once a month,” said the director, adding “these tend to be feasible in secondary and senior secondary schools where the number of students is more”.
The North Bengal University – Monitoring Institution on Mid-Day Meal Scheme for Sikkim – during its second half yearly (April 1, 2012 to 30th September, 2012) survey conducted in north district – after the devastating earthquake of September 18, 2011 – discovered a novel practice: Voong Primary School and Namok Junior High School finalise menu in consultation with students.
To ensure special focus on provision of micronutrients, vitamins A, de-worming medicines, iron and folic acid etc., the Nutrition Cell of Health and Family Welfare Department and Food and Nutrition department are annually consulted and their expertise is utilized for educating the stakeholders of schools in north district, the MI survey reports.
Assistant Project Coordinator, Mid-Day Meal Cell, HRD, Gangtok, Pema T. Bhutia feels that the scheme has in a way also improved socialisation among the children belonging to different castes as they sit together and eat the same food.
On the positive side again Sikkim has the engagement of women from financially weak condition or women from self help group – mostly scheduled tribe / scheduled caste / backward communities – as cooks and helpers. The rate of cooking per child per day is Rs. 3.45 in primary and Rs. 4.65 in upper primary till June 2013, but the rate to the delight of the cooks has been enhanced to Rs. 5.00 for upper primary and Rs. 3.66 to primary from July 2013. The Government enhances 7.5% of cooking cost every year.
In yet another achievement, Sikkim in 2011 also became the first State in the country to introduce PDS wherein grain is procured from the storehouse of the Food Corporation of India, transported to districts and then to schools.
No doubt the implementation of the scheme is a big and complex affair. In Sikkim, it is estimated that some 85, 300 children studying up to standard eight are fed cooked meals every day in some 879 government schools, including 85 monastic and 12 Sanskrit pathsalas.
Overall the Mid-Day Meal journey in Sikkim has been smooth. “The State has not come across any case of unhygienic and unfavorable report except at times a slight delay of the food grains in reaching during monsoon seasons because of blockade of roads. However, to mitigate such problems the school heads are advised to keep buffer stock of food grains during such period,” said the Director.
The Mid-Day Meal scheme evolved in 2001 after the Supreme Court directed all governments to provide cooked food to all children in primary schools. The Central government is providing free grain (rice) and funding for cost of foodgrains, transportation cost of foodgrains, cooking cost and honorarium for the cook cum helper engaged under Mid-Day Meal Scheme. The State government is providing its mandatory state share of 10% to cooking cost and honorarium to cook cum helpers.
*The author is a Freelance Journalist and the views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of iSikkim.com.
(Courtesy: PIB. Pics: PIB)
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