School meals can make a big difference | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 17, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:59 PM, August 17, 2019


School meals can make a big difference

It will significantly incentivise going to school

We laud the government’s plan to provide daily meals for all 1.73 crore primary students in order to increase attendance and reduce the number of dropouts. While enrolment of students has increased significantly over the years, keeping students in school has been a great challenge for the government. A nutritious meal in school could make all the difference for children of impoverished families. Many students come to school on an empty stomach which makes it difficult to concentrate on the lessons. This often leads to poor grades and children losing interest in studies—resulting in their dropping out. Last year attendance rate of primary students was 88 percent while the dropout rate was 20 percent.

The National Meal Policy 2019, if implemented successfully, has the potential to do wonders for the “education for all” goal. The draft proposal of the policy proposed hot meals five days a week and fortified biscuits on one day. Meals would include fortified rice, vegetable oil, locally grown vegetables and if possible, eggs. Locals and parents, especially mothers, will be involved in the programme which will, no doubt, make sure that it is run smoothly.

As in any large-scale programme, financing is obviously a challenge. Providing quality meals to all 1.73 crore primary students will require kitchens in every school, along with cooks and other helpers as well as supervisors to monitor the quality of the food. The ministry is thinking of requesting businesses and banks to spend their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds on this programme. This seems like a good idea but should not be the primary source of financing. The ministry must be able to allocate adequate budgets to make sure the quality and quantity of food provided is consistent throughout all schools. School feeding programmes within the country and outside have proven to improve attendance and keep students in school by improving concentration and interest in lessons. We sincerely hope that the government will go ahead with this policy and implement it on an urgent basis. It is definitely the right step in the endeavour to increase children’s access to education.

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