Combating Classroom Hunger: The Impact of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme on Education and Nutrition in India

By Ananya Srivastava

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme has been a transformative initiative in India, significantly enhancing the educational and nutritional landscape for millions of children. By addressing classroom hunger, it has boosted school enrolment, attendance, and retention rates while promoting equity and social inclusion.

Education is essential for developing a child physically, mentally, and emotionally. It equips a child with crucial survival skills. However, despite various education policies, many children fail to attend school due to poor financial status. Even if children enroll, they have a lower retention rate because of hunger. India has the largest number of undernourished people in the world, with around 194.4 million people, or 14.37% of its population, not receiving enough nutrition. Anemia rates among children are 15% higher than the world average due to low intake of iron and folic acid. Such lack of nutrition results in poor educational outcomes. Unrestricted access to education for all, increased enrolment, adequate retention, and heightened achievement among school students are essential. Good nutritional support is necessary to achieve these goals.

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme: An Overview

The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) scheme, launched in 1995, targeted the problem of classroom hunger. NP-NSPE sought to boost enrolment, attendance, and retention of children studying in primary classes in Government, Government-aided and Local Body Schools by providing nutritional support. Later, the scheme expanded to include the upper primary classes. It was renamed the National Programme of Mid-Day Meals in Schools and became popularly known as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. In 2021, the scheme was renamed the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman Scheme, and it also covers students of balvatikas (children in the 3–5-year age group) from pre-primary classes.

Objectives and Implementation of the Scheme

The objectives of this scheme are to enhance the nutritional status of students in classes I to VIII of Government, Local Body and Government-Aided Schools, Special Training Centres (STCs), Anganwadis, Madrasas and Maktabs supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA); to increase attendance and retention, and to provide nutritional aid to children in drought-affected areas during summer breaks. The scheme also aims to promote harmony among children.

Despite its many benefits, the scheme has scope for improvement. There are no linkages with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, a lack of evidence on impact, and widespread irregularities in the drawing and the utilization of food grains. Insufficient funds, delays in budget allocation, and variable quality of food served in different states remains issues of concern. Hygiene is another factor, as the meals could pose a health hazard if the cooking conditions are unhygienic and the ingredient quality is deficient. The repetition of the same menu every day is also an issue. The salary payment for cooks is inadequate, and there is insufficient budgetary allocation toward conversion costs, resulting in a repetitive menu. Parental participation is low, and there is a lack of proper utensils. The sheds and drinking water facilities also lack maintenance.

The policy recommends the supply of 100 grams of food grains per child per school for primary classes and 150 grams for upper primary classes. It provides subsidies for the transportation of food grains and recommends the creation of kitchen sheds in rural areas and the assurance of drinking water facilities. It also includes the purchase of utensils, for which funds are available under SSA. The scheme suggests that a meal should provide roughly 450 calories and 12 grams of protein for every child at primary level and 700 calories and 20 grams of protein at the upper primary level.

Recommendations for Policy Reforms

Impact and Benefits

The scheme is not just about providing nutritional support to children. It fosters equity by breaking caste barriers through common spaces where children sit together and have meals. It reduces gender disparities in consumption by being a form of monetary support to impoverished families. The programme addresses classroom hunger, stimulates healthy growth of school children, raises calorie and protein intake, delivers nutritional supplements such as iron and iodine, and aids in mass-deworming.

Many students travel long distances to reach their schools and feel hungry upon arrival, affecting their concentration. The scheme addresses this concern, particularly in tribal areas where hunger is endemic. Mid-day meals have led to higher school enrolment and attendance rates across all states and have narrowed gender gaps. The scheme incentivizes sending children to school, reducing absenteeism and dropout rates. It has also provided employment to women, freeing them from the obligation of cooking at home during the day.

Challenges and Areas for Improvement

The policy can benefit from several reforms. One suggested reform is improving the quality of cooked food. The Grievance Redressal Mechanism must be expanded. Regular and adequate inspection, monitoring, and supervision are imperative. There should be training for cooks and helpers to ensure hygiene, health, sanitation, and the preparation of nutritious meals.

Conclusion

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme has been a transformative initiative in India, significantly enhancing the educational and nutritional landscape for millions of children. By addressing classroom hunger, it has boosted school enrolment, attendance, and retention rates while promoting equity and social inclusion. Despite its notable successes, the scheme still faces challenges such as inconsistent food quality, inadequate funding, and hygiene issues. To fully realize its potential, it is imperative to implement reforms that improve food standards, ensure regular monitoring, and provide adequate training for cooks. Strengthening linkages with health ministries, enhancing grievance redressal mechanisms, and increasing community and parental involvement will further bolster the scheme’s impact. With these improvements, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme can continue to play a crucial role in nurturing a healthier, better-educated generation, driving India towards a more equitable and prosperous future.

Ananya is a Policy and Advocacy Intern at Sarkari School.in and recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History from St, Stephen’s College, University of Delhi

About the author: Team SarkariSchool

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