By Dr Gursharan Singh Kainth : Mid day meal scheme in rural areas of Punjab has failed to achieve the goal of Universalization of Elementary Education as prescribed by the UN Millennium Development Goals (2000) and followed by Government of India. Total Enrollment of selected schools belonging to three districts, namely, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, and Gurdaspur Districts of Rural Punjab was 33085 during the base year (average of 2007 to 2009). This enrollment declined to 31667 during the current year (average of 2010-12). Almost similar decline with varying degree was noticed in all the three selected districts. However the decline in enrollment of girls’ students was slightly more than their boys’ counterpart. Moreover, the enrollment in primary standard of the selected districts of Rural Punjab has declined by 2.35 per cent which is attributed to the bogus admission made in the base period. In Upper Primary Section, Base year Enrollment was 10583 and Current year Enrollment was 11124. However, the enrollment in the upper primary standard has shown an improvement (the percentage change in the enrollment was 105.11).
These facts are revealed from in-depth analysis under taken by Dr Gursharan Singh Kainth ICSSR Senior Fellow of Amritsar based Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies. The study is restricted to Majha region of rural areas of Punjab consisting of three districts, namely, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran and a part of the bigger project sponsored by Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, Ministry of Human Resources Government of India under their Senior Fellowship Program.
Another salient feature of the analysis is that a lion share of the enrollment at the elementary schools was claimed by the Schedule caste (SC) and schedule tribes (ST), their percentage being 69.36 per cent. In addition 17.66 per cent belong to Other Backward Categories (OBCs). Apparently, government schools are dominated by the reserved categories students due to obvious reason. The question arises: Why the other categories parents did not sent their students to these government schools. This needs a thorough examination.
In almost all the schools there was shortage of teaching staff because of unplanned opening of elementary schools in the rural areas. Moreover, one-fourth of the schools have only up to two teachers whereas minimum classes in these schools are five. The government has recommended the number of teachers according to the strength of students i.e. one teacher for 30 students. But these norms should be revised. These norms should be set on the basis of number of classes but not on the basis of number of students. Due to lack of teachers, there is a negative impact on the study of children. During the survey it was observed that there is no academic atmosphere in the school due to lack of teaching staff. There should be at least one teacher for every class irrespective of the student strength. There is a strong need to rationalize the opening of school.
The study further reveals total lack of enthusiasm in the implementation of the scheme in too and found lopsided functioning on various components of the schemes. Under MDM scheme the government provide food grains like wheat, rice etc. to the schools. But schools are not getting food grains on time and in short. In most of schools, there is a negative balance of food grains due to which they are unable to provide the food to children as per menu specified by government under Mid Day Meal Scheme. The government provides food grains gunny bags with specified quantity. But generally the schools get less quantity of food grains. There are many holes on the gunny bags of food grains and the quantity is less even up to 15 kgs. School authorities have to accept those gunny bags due to shortage of supply and under pressure. Quality of food grains at the initial stage was below average, but there is a continuous improvement in the quality of food grains. Moreover, there is lack of scientific storage of grains in the school premises, although some schools are provided with bins. For storing the food grains, drums are not available in majority of the schools. Shortage of drums couple with insufficient space for storage, no proper caring of food grains etc. results into wastage of food grains. Moreover food grains also get exhausted when they are not properly stored.
Under MDM Scheme, Schools are facing the acute scarcity of funds. They do not get enough funds on time. Their funds are showing the negative balances from last many years. Generally one fourth or little more than that of the monthly expenditure is reimbursed to schools rendering school funds into negatives which cumulative balance into thousands. Even funds are delayed for months- some schools had reported negative balance of more than Rs 25 thousands and even up to Rs 50 thousand. The question again arises: How they manage the scheme? Moreover schools with less strength are easily getting funds whereas schools with more strength are not getting any funds which have resulted into negative balances. For smooth functioning of MDM scheme, the schools authorities are investing their personal cash or borrow from the grocers.
Although cook- cum- helpers are appointed in all the schools but they are not trained. Moreover, they lack enthusiasm again due to delayed payments even up to four to six months. Moreover, they demand that their remuneration should be increased and provided on time to them. Cooks should be appointed in schools on permanent basis. According to schools, only those cooks should be appointed in the schools that have some degree in cooking. They must be fully trained in cooking
Under MDM schemes, schools are provided gas cylinders for cooking foods. Schools are facing the problem of shortage of gas cylinders. Moreover, in most of schools the delivery of gas cylinders is not easily available. They have to cover long distance and pay more fright for getting gas cylinders. In some schools, gas cylinders have been stolen or there is a fear of stealing of gas cylinders. Due to these problems, the schools do not prefer to use gas cylinders for making food. Although the government has banned the use of cow dungs, firewood etc. due to their ill-effects but still most of schools are using this firewood and cow dung paste for making food because these are easily available. Less cost is involved in their procurement. The main disadvantage of using firewood is health problems to cooks and children.
In majority of schools, utensils are not provided to children for eating. Children bring their own utensils from their homes. Half an hour is not sufficient for distribution of food to the children. More time is involved which results into negative impact on studies. Hence there is wastage of time in washing the utensils after fooding. Moreover, time span for fooding is very little. The government should provide utensils to schools authorities for serving the food to children. Cooking utensils are also inadequate in many schools.
The most liked dish of the menu was Karri Chawal followed by Dal Chawal. Sweet rice was least liked by the students in almost all the schools and needs to be replaced with salty rice in the menu. Alternatively curd should be provided with the sweet rice. Children insist that there must be some alteration in food menu. According to them, Rajma-chawal, Cheese, Dalia, fruits, green vegetables, Salty rice, curd etc should be added in the menu. The government should also make alteration in the food menu after considering the preferences of children or school authority may be permitted to change the menu according to local conditions.