Proper Nutrition for Education

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 16 Dec 2019

Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

It is a well known fact that proper nutrition is essential especially for children’s bodily and mental development; otherwise they may become stunted and have difficulties in learning. Children also need to play and jump — activities that require balanced diet and nutrition.

Recognising these facts the Indian government both at the central and state levels has made provision for free mid day meals (MDM) for school children in government schools. Private schools which generally cater to children belonging to rich parents don’t compulsorily need to provide meals in schools since the children bring their own lunch boxes.

Although the objective of providing MDM is commendable, occasionally carelessness or petty corruption mars the practice. Recently a school was found to be mixing water with the milk that was being served to the children along with the food. Consequently children felt hungry after being served the meal. This practice appeared to be a corrupt one but when the principal of the school was questioned she explained that they had not received adequate financial aid from the directorate of education resulting in this apparent malpractice.

In another case it was found that the school was serving chapattis (made of wheat) with salt; no vegetable or dal was being provided to the children. When this malpractice was detected after some parents reported it to the educational authorities, the same alibi as in the above case was given. In such situations, it is difficult to put the blame on only one agency or institution.

A horrible incident occurred in the northern state of Bihar about six years ago where 23 children died after eating the mid day meal in their school. The oil that was used for cooking had been kept in a container that earlier stored pesticides, as the enquiry committee discovered. How could this happen, who was to blame, what punishment if any was given, all these elements remain shrouded in mystery.

The parents of these children weep but being poor and illiterate can hardly take any substantive action to have the guilty punished. The sad part is that they are used to traumatic experiences in their lives and after the initial  bout of sorrow and weeping they continue with their sordid lives in order to feed their other children and many a time their aged parents who live with them.

Apart from providing nutrition to the children belonging to poor families, the provision of MDM helps is encouraging children to come to school regularly.  This aspect is necessary for children to learn the school curriculum and also is beneficial on a social level. It  is also enabling children to play the limited level of games and sports that are available.

Some years ago a very unique and interesting incident involving MDM occurred in a school in the state of Tamil Nadu. The children were being provided with two idlis (pancakes made of wheat flour). The children relished this, but it was seen by a teacher that a girl would eat one idli and hide the second one in her school bag.  This upset some teachers of the school. They felt the child was indulging in stealing from the school.

The child was taken to the room of the headmistress who gently asked her why she was doing this. The girl simply said that she took one idli home so that her younger brother, who was not going to school, could also eat something. It speaks of the poverty in many families in India.

I must acknowledge that an incisive article on this subject appeared in the Indian newspaper The Hindu    a few days earlier by a noted educationist Professor Krishnan Kumar.   He also cited a statement made by a former director of UNICEF in which she had stressed that although it was thirty years that children’s rights were globally recognised , millions of children all over the world were deprived of food and education due to poverty, inequality and discrimination.

It may be stressed that if these issues are not properly addressed, children would not only be denied education and proper nutrition, but also fail to acquire proper values as citizens of  the world and would tend to indulge in anti social and perhaps criminal activities.

Let us recognise what a proper mid day meal in schools in poor countries can achieve and what its absence can lead to — negative and undesirable results.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Dec 2019.

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