After much heartache as I watch scheme upon well-intentioned scheme falling into the dust and
bleeding through it's noble nose, an e-mail from Jharkhand makes me smile with relief.
A questionnaire was sent to teachers in 23 government-run schools (or those aided by the central or state sarkars). The results were compiled as a survey and here are the highlights:
The Good news -
95.45% schools have mid-day meals in place, and 100% have cooks, (so the argument that teachers are tied down by kitchen duties, clearly does not stand).
The kids have plates (paper or leaves or steel) to eat in, all provided by the govt or the school itself.
There has been a distinct growth in enrolment since mid-day meals were introduced, in more than 82% of the the schools surveyed. For girls, there's been a 42.76% growth across categories, and a 23.97% for boys (these are my calculations, based on data... so excuse the arithmetic, if there's been a mistake).
Almost 96% of the teachers say that the children's interest in school has increased. There are more kids are staying back after lunch, and even turning up around the lunch hour, though they miss morning classes. (Which I have no problems with. What's important is that they're in school, getting fed; getting educated is secondary.)
In 96 almost, there was no opposition from 'Upper Castes', and even in the few instances that there were hostile murmurs, there was no caste-based segregation of students, nor were the meals cooked separately.... but there was no answer to the question 'what can be done to solve the problem, if it arises?'
In nearly 96% of the schools, there were zero reports of children falling sick after eating mid-day meals and 0 (zero) % of the villagers want the scheme to be stopped. Every last teacher surveyed also wanted the scheme to continue. despite claims of the local administation, to the contrary.
The bad news -
80.77% of the students are still overwhelmingly male.
69.57% of schools don't have toilets. (which might explain why girls are reluctant to attend).
There are drinking water facilities in only 30% of the schools, and often, the water source is either too far away, or unfit for consumption. Since most kids are eating with their hands, this becomes a huge problem at lunch-time.
The discomfiting news -
In the majority of the cases, the grain comes to the school (more than 78%) but no one has any answer to the question of 'what happens when and if there is a shortfall of grain?'. There is no help from panchayats it seems and many shrugged off the category as 'not applicable'.
The recurring expenses on oil, pulses and cook's salaries and fuel/firewood come to almost Rs 8310; where is this amount supposed to come from, if the state allocation isn't enough? I raed of one school in Karnataka that sorted it out by growing and sellng veggies.