In 2017, the school sector had a budget allocation of Rs 46,356 crore. According to Ajay Kavishwar, Director, Akshaya Patra Foundation, government’s intend on further strengthening this sector further is evident and pundits are expecting a raise of 14% in the allocation for school education in Budget 2018; the focus for the Education sector is likely to be on the schemes launched by the government and quality improvement. The mid-day meal and girl education initiatives are likely to gain more weightage than last year.
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) benefits over 9.78 Cr children across the country, providing them nutritional support as well as an incentive to come to school. It has been a vital cog in the wheel as far as the National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) 2016 is concerned. The NPAC was formulated to address children’s rights with respect to 4 key priority areas: survival, health and nutrition, education and development, and protection and participation; the Mid-Day Meal Programme seeks to mediate in two of these directly.
With sufficient evidence to suggest that the Mid-Day Meal Initiative is having the desired impact, the next logical step would be to extend the scope of the initiative by transforming this ‘school lunch programme’ to a ‘school nutrition programme.’ This could be done by including breakfast and snacks to further ameliorate children’s health and nutrition status. In this case, especially in the case of snacks, cooked meals could be replaced by ready-to-eat supplementation in the form of milk, cookies, etc. It would be beneficial if the Central and State Governments could explore the possibility of allocating them based on region-specific nutrition requirements of children.
The Mid-Day Meal Initiative also provides an opportunity to integrate millets – the indigenous superfoods – into children’s diet. It will be prudent if the Government develops a robust framework regarding integration of millets in meals. This move will not just be beneficial to children, but also to farmers and even the environment. A collaboration between the Centre and State’s MDM and agriculture departments would be welcomed as it would balance the demand and supply, with procurement directly from farmers bringing them on board.
According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 report, India is home to 190. 7 million undernourished people in the world – a significant portion of this comprising children. A range of welfare initiatives, including MDMS and ICDS, are already in place to tackle the issue of malnutrition in children. We can make the most of these welfare initiatives by introducing interventions such as the integration of millets in nutrition programmes.
Children will benefit from increased allocation of funds to allied programmes such as the Swachh Vidyalaya Programme under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. In promoting clean and healthy environment in schools, this programme facilitates hygienic and safe conditions for storage, cooking, and consumption of mid-day meal. Also, clean hand wash and sanitation facilities, which are integral to this initiative, lead to an overall positive learning experience.