Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Trying to make money out of the school mid-day meal

Ever since the concept of providing a cooked meal to school children as part of school came into existence, India's education system has seen a major improvement. The thought of getting a good nutritious meal has made children more eager to attend school, and at the same time, has made parents see more value in sending their children to school. Continuing this scheme, while making sure that the quality and quantity of food served remains good is an essential ingredient of making sure that India rural children attain more education, and India's targets of making sure that these children grow up into better adults is met. It would not too much to say, that in addition to having good educational facilities and good teachers, providing them good cooked food is essential.
And now enter the money-makers. The very size and reach of this cooked food program makes for an extremely large sum of money that is being spent. This money has attracted many corporates, who have launched a campaign to get biscuits to be served instead of food. The claim is that biscuits will be easier to manage than the logistics of cooking food, and the biscuits can be specially made to be as nutritious as the education program requires. The pressure by this lobby is so large that Members of Parliament have got involved, with many MP's having been swayed to sign a letter promoting this changeover into biscuits.
Hopefully, this latest statement by the National Institute of Nutrition should bring this debate to an end:

Children should not be fed biscuits as lunch under the government's mid-day meal (MDM) scheme. This has been stated emphatically by India's premier agency on nutritional issues, the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition, backing the contention of many states opposing the move to feed biscuits to children under the countrywide scheme.
In what would be the strongest indictment of the biscuit manufacturers' pitch for their products, the institute has written that it has “worked on the recommended dietary requirements for adults and children, and biscuits do not find a mention anywhere, nor is it recommended as a source of calories or nutrients, because biscuits (sweet or salty) are empty calories”.

This should really bring the debate to an end. Politicians really do not need to get involved in this debate. What is needed that the Ministry of Human resources stops this ridiculous attempt to move away from the cooked meal scheme. The cooked meals currently are region-specific, cooking the kind of meals required for that particular region; it is ridiculous to assume that serving biscuits will have the same kind of impression on parents and children.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:46 AM