Government of India launched National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (Commonly known as Mid-Day Meal Scheme) on August 15, 1995 to provide mid-day meal to the children studying at primary stage. In 2002, the Supreme Court directed the Government to provide cooked Mid-Day Meals (as apposed to providing dry rations) in all Government and Government aided primary schools. It was revised in September 2004 and in September 2006.
In keeping with the Constitutional provisions to raise the level of nutrition of children and enable them to develop in a healthy manner, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally sponsored scheme in 1995. Commonly referred to as MDMS, this was expected to enhance enrolment, retention, attendance of children in schools apart from improving their nutritional levels. This was extended to upper primary (classes VI to VIII) children in 3,479 Economically Backwards blocks (EBBs) in 2007 and then universalised at the elementary level in the year 2008. The scheme is implemented through the States/UTs. MDMS is managed and implemented by School Management/Village Education Committees, Panchayati Raj Institutions, and Self-Help Groups. MDMS now includes madrasas and maktabs supported under the SSA as well as children under the National Child Labour Projects. A detailed survey of implementation of intended nutritional values including calorific value, prote n inclusion, additional nutritional supplements and vitamins, as detailed in the scheme,needs to be carried out to ensure that the nutrition scheme is implemented in both spirit and letter.
The key objectives of the programme are:
- protecting children from classroom hunger,
- increasing school enrolment and attendance,
- improving socialisation among children belonging to all castes,
- addressing the issue of malnutrition among children and
- social empowerment of women by creating employment.
The objectives of the mid day meal scheme are:
- Improving the nutritional status of children in classes I – VIII in Government, Local Body and Government aided schools, and EGS and AIE centres.
- Encouraging poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections, to attend school more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities.
- Providing nutritional support to children of primary stage in drought-affected areas during summer vacation.
- Promoting school participation: Mid day meals have big effects on school participation, not just in terms of getting more children enrolled in the registers but also in terms of regular pupil attendance on a daily basis.
- Preventing classroom hunger: Many children reach school on an empty stomach. Even children who have a meal before they leave for school get hungry by the afternoon and are not able to concentrate – especially children from families who cannot give them a lunch box or are staying a long distance away from the school. Mid day meal can help to overcome this problem by preventing “classroom hunger”.
- Facilitating the healthy growth of children: Mid day meal can also act as a regular source of “supplementary nutrition” for children, and facilitate their healthy growth.
- Intrinsic educational value: A well-organised mid day meal can be used as an opportunity to impart various good habits to children (such as washing one’s hands before and after eating), and to educate them about the importance of clean water, good hygiene and other related matters.
- Fostering social equality: Mid day meal can help spread egalitarian values, as children from various social backgrounds learn to sit together and share a common meal. In particular, mid day meal can help to break the barriers of caste and class among school. Appointing cooks from Dalit communities is another way of teaching children to overcome caste prejudices.
- Enhancing gender equity: The gender gap in school participation tends to narrow, as the Mid Day Meal Scheme helps erode the barriers that prevent girls from going to school. Mid Day Meal Scheme also provide a useful source of employment for women, and helps liberate workingwomen from the burden of cooking at home during the day. In these and other ways, women and girl children have a special stake in Mid Day Meal Scheme.
- Psychological Benefits: Physiological deprivation leads to low self-esteem, consequent insecurity, anxiety and stress. The Mid Day Meal Scheme can help address this and facilitate cognitive, emotional and social development.