Since the inception of the Mid-Day Meals (MDM) scheme in government schools across J&K, the government assigned the charges to the school teachers for its implementation. From purchasing eatables to delivery of rice, all these responsibilities were put on the teachers. The practice is still in vogue.
But assigning the charges of MDM to school teachers was a wrong decision taken by the successive regimes because it was a burden on the already overburdened teachers in government. Besides handling the academics, the teachers in government schools also maintain admission records, examination records, library maintenance and all other assignments, in absence of the non-teaching staff in the schools.
In a nutshell, the teachers in majority of the schools not only manage the academics but also the non-teaching assignments, exposing the government’s non-seriousness in filing the non-teaching vacancies.
Almost more than two decades passed since the MDM was launched for students in government schools but the successive regimes remained clueless over relieving the teachers of this additional assignment.
With the result, it continued to distract the teachers from their main job – teaching the students. Such practice will have an adverse impact on the students as well as on the teachers.
No doubt teachers do not serve the meals but managing the implementation of the scheme in itself is a big task for them. Besides arranging the stock is equally a burden on the teachers.
Being associated with the education department indirectly, I have observed that the scheme has literally snatched the peace of mind of the teachers who are assigned the charges of MDM in schools. In case of any shortcomings, the concerned teacher becomes victim of delay in the release of funds or delivery of food grains. Ideally the teacher should have been relieved of this burden.
Six years ago, the school education department decided to outsource the cooking of Mid-Day Meals (MDM) to local Panchayat or some Voluntary organization, including Self Help Groups (SHG) or reputed NGOs. The decision was taken in a review meeting convened by the then Chief Secretary.
Even the department started exploring all the possibilities to outsource the cooking of MDM which would ease the burden on the teachers who otherwise remain busy with the scheme.
The initiative was hailed because of the fact that the teachers have to waste a lot of time over it and at times they have to skip their classes to monitor the implementation of the scheme and availability of ration in schools.
Even the teachers also demand to distance themselves from this but the government initiative to outsource the cooking of MDM died a silent death.
With an aim to enhance enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improve nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on August 15, 1995.
In 2001 MDM became a cooked Mid-Day Meal Scheme under which every child in every government upper primary school is to be served a prepared MDM for a minimum of 200 days.
After two decades of its successful implementation, the social audit report done by the KU’s Department of Social Work with the support of the school education department also suggested that the MDM should be outsourced. The recommendations were put forth on the basis of the opinions shared by the teachers.
Besides academics, the teachers become answerable to the community for any shortcomings in MDM scheme like non-availability of rooms for children to eat meals and availability of other facilities. As per the contents of the KU’s audit report, the children eat meals in open space or classrooms as the majority of the schools hardly have any separate space for eating meals during lunch time. Every year the government of India expresses its concern over the delay in release of funds from the finance department to school education department. Given the non-availability of funds on time, it also becomes a headache for the teachers to monitor the implementation of the scheme. The teacher remains busy in managing the MDM crises which keeps him away from academics, ultimately leaving an adverse impact on the academics of the students.
Considering the shortcomings and the sluggishness of the government to keep the funds and grains available in schools, it is the right time for the government to outsource the cooking of MDM meals. The move will ease the teachers of this burden and they can concentrate on the academics of students. Not only MDM, but the government should act on practical lines to bring a change in the education sector. Let the teachers be relieved from all non-teaching assignments and rather tasked to concentrate only on academics in the government schools.