I believe that every problem in the universe has a cause and one or more solution(s). Before getting on to the Friday phenomenon as mentioned in the headline, I’d like to talk about the mid-day meal (MDM) program in schools.
Interestingly, the history of Pondicherry says that universal school feeding started as early as in 1930s but the program was introduced on a large scale only in the 1960s when K. Kamaraj was the Chief Minister. Thereafter, the program saw a major thrust in 1982 when Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. M. G. Ramachandran, decided to implement the scheme for all children up to class 10. By the mid-1980s, three states – Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu adopted a cooked mid-day meal program with their own resources for children in primary schools.
As I was reading up on MDMs, I came across an interesting story about how K. Kamaraj, who was a leader of Indian National Congress, widely acknowledged as the “Kingmaker” in Indian politics during the 1960s, got an idea of this scheme.
“He saw a few boys busy with their cows and goats, and asked one of them, “What are you doing with these cows? Why didn’t you go to school?” He answered, “If I go to school, will you give me food to eat? I can learn only if I eat.” The boy’s reply sparked the entire process of establishing the MDM program.”
In order to increase the enrollment, retention, attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional level among the children, India initiated the National Program of Nutritional Support with primary education. It was launched as a centrally sponsored scheme on 15th August 1995.
Apart from the above, the main objectives behind the mid-day meal are:
- To motivate children from disadvantaged sections and help them to concentrate on school/classroom activities on a regular basis.
- To address the problem of malnutrition.
- To have the provision of employment for women as cooks or helpers, and hence leading to empowerment.
- To promote socializing among children from all castes and backgrounds.
I also came across Dopahar, an initiative taken by Bihar government. It was introduced in April 2012 for better monitoring of the mid-day meal scheme and to capture real-time data. SMS alerts are sent everyday, to DEO (District Education Office) and District MDM in-charge for information and necessary action. Daily report of schools not serving MDMs and weekly report of schools not having food grains and/or funds is generated by the data received. It is then reviewed by a dedicated team of officers. Actions are taken on a regular basis.
As I’m working with Quest Alliance in Samastipur, Bihar. My major role is to work on a performance management system, an initiative to track the progress, monitor field activity and track changes in the government schools of Samastipur. Here, the collection of data and managing it, becomes a difficult task for teachers as well as other non-teaching staff as it affects their roles and responsibility. People at Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the District Magistrate of Samastipur have shown greater interest in making this process more smooth. The vision is to have all data on one single platform which helps in monitoring the schools and further, to rank them on the basis of data collected.
I had to visit 37 schools in Pusa block of Samastipur, for pilot testing of the new tool. During these visits, I noticed that the total number of students present, is high on Fridays, as compared to other weekdays. To know why, I interacted with teachers in different schools and got to know that November onward, they have started to distribute eggs and bananas to students every Friday, during the mid-day meal, or after. I collected the attendance record from a school for 30 working days after November 2017. The analysed data is shown below:
Here’s what the graph indicates:
- The average no. of students on Fridays is high as compared to other weekdays
- On an average, the students attend school least on Saturdays as they usually go to work in farm fields
- Number of students present, increases from Monday to Tuesday and decreases by Thursday
- Overall average attendance at school is around 50%
This did not happen before November. In fact, now the parents take extra care to make sure that their children go to school on a Friday. Such a change was also observed when mid-day meal was introduced. It shows how food influences the presence of children in government schools. What compels parents to take this additional responsibility is the Friday phenomenon. Some of the teachers also informed me that the government may decide to distribute eggs/bananas twice a week in order to increase the attendance of students by one more day per week. Or is it just a rumor?