Can free meals provided at schools improve student attendance and reduce the dropout rates?
Indians would know.
Back in 1920s, the Mayor of Madras in India introduced the scheme of one anna breakfast for students in one school. One anna was a unit of Indian currency – it is now defunct – an anna was INR 0.06. The programme was discontinued by the British government when the enrolment in that school improved as a result of the scheme.
However, in 1956, the then chief minister of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, K Kamaraj, rolled out the noon meal programme. Under this programme, all primary school students across Tamil Nadu were served hot meals at school.
The results were promising. These meals kept school students – who mostly hailed from poor and underprivileged families – coming to school, reduced classroom hunger – thus enabling students to focus on studies. It also improved nutrition among students, and reduced the drop-out rates.
Social Innovation in Education
Social innovation is key to solving the pressing challenges plaguing our world and the planet. For instance, problems like poverty, lack of access to education, climate change, unemployment, and malnutrition.
Can this provision of mid-day meals be termed social innovation in education? Let us look at what data from Tamil Nadu says. Hot meals were provided every day to over 65,000 students for 200 days a year in the year 1956-1957.
Later it was scaled up to cover 2 lakh students across 8,000 schools in Tamil Nadu alone.
While the total literacy rate across Tamil Nadu in 1951 was just 20.8%, it crossed 45% by 1971. The literacy rate in girls during the same period tripled from 10.10% to 30.92%, indicating that more girls were going to school.
When K Kamaraj introduced this scheme in Tamil Nadu, the state government didn’t have the wherewithal to support free meals for so many students. Kamaraj, the then head of the state, went around the state educating the people about the benefits of the scheme. In turn, he raised funds for the scheme. In fact, during the initial years, the scheme was mostly funded by public donations.
After 1957, it was further expanded over the years to include elementary, middle and high school students.
Impact of the Mid-Day Meal Social Innovation
With the success of the project in Tamil Nadu, several Indian states followed suit. Since 2015, all Indian states are implementing this mid-day meal programme with assistance from the Central government. The Mid-Day Meal programme was scaled up to cover students across classes I to XII. Many states have included the provision of eggs and fruits in the meals.
This has given around 12 crore students across 11 lakh schools access to one nutritious meal per day. Besides the impact on education and nutrition, several people from the lower strata of society have found employment opportunities due to this scheme.
As of date, this scheme employs around 26 lakh cooks and helpers across India to cook and serve meals at schools.
Public–Private Partnership in Mid-Day Meals
Public-Private Partnership (PPP) has been instrumental in the strengthening of Mid-Day Meals across many states in India. Governments of states like Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu work with NGOs and women Self-Help Groups to freshly prepare hygienic and wholesome food, and deliver it to schools every day.
Akshaya Patra Foundation is an NGO based in India’s IT hub of Bengaluru. It feeds over 2 million students across India daily. The Foundation operates 47 kitchens across 12 states in India.
The involvement of private organizations in the Mid-Day Meals programme helps keep checks on the quality and hygiene of the food. Over the years, it has helped maintain the standards of cooking, and improving the reach of the programme.
At a certain point, the Mid-Day Meal programme was plagued with mismanagement and lack of regulations, which forced governments to get private parties involved. There were regular reports of dead rats and lizards found in meals, students getting poisoned after eating meals, the worst ever was in 2013 when 23 students died after eating mid-day meals in Chhapra, in the Bihar state of India.
Watch this short video to know how Akshaya Patra is fighting hunger and malnutrition in India:
Larger Impact of Mid Day Meals in India
The governments work on the supply of grains, set up the nutrition standards, and supply a part of the funds for the Mid-Day Meal programme. And, the private parties come up with a daily menu adhering to the nutrition standards set by the government, keeping the nutrition needs as per student age groups. Moreover, private organizations set up centralized kitchens and put in place safety and hygiene measures. They also employ men and women to work in the kitchens, and oversee food preparation and delivery to schools by noon.
Mid-Day Meal programme was a social innovation that had a large impact on the Indian society. It is a solution that attends to many social problems. The scheme drove students from poor families to schools while helping the battle against malnutrition. Free meals at schools helped produce better results in terms of school enrolment, attendance, and reduction of drop-outs among girls.
Also, it creates jobs for people in civil society. Besides, with the involvement of private organizations with governments and civil society members for this social project, more students have been reached over the years.
Which other social innovation can you think of that could solve numerous problems with one solution? Let us know in the comments!