THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:: Kerala is one of the best performing states when it comes to the school mid-day meal scheme, but teachers say it is they who are footing the bill, not the government. The money the government allots, they say, is enough to buy just one egg a week – not the dal, vegetables and milk the children are also entitled to.
The schools just get Rs 5 for a student each day, and free rice. The money is just enough to buy one egg. The twice-a-week milk alone costs Rs 12 for a single child.
Food distributed under the scheme is a big draw for children who come from impoverished families and the government hopes it will help stem the high rate of drop outs from schools.
At Thiruvananthapuram’s Fort UP school, each of the eight teachers, including the headmaster, pay between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 to feed the 60 children who come from economically backward families.
“We share the cost. Each of us collects Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 and feed these children. The money the government gives is simply not enough,” said Jayashree AG, one of the teachers.
Last month, another school received Rs 1,685 from the government – the staff had to find the rest of the Rs 4,500 that was spent on food.
NDTV spoke to other schools, who on condition of anonymity, confirmed that they have either stopped providing milk or reduced its frequency. Some have even reduced the quantities of other food items due to paucity of funds.
“We must be absolved of these responsibilities,” said Shaji M Mathew, the President of Kerala Private Primary Headmasters’ Association. “As headmasters, we have to teach and look after a lot of things in the school. We should not be worried about how to generate money to feed the children under a government scheme.”
An external agency like Kudumbashree, he said, should be made responsible. “And till that time, we must at least be given the required funds to feed these children,” he added.
In a recent order, the state government increased the money granted for each child in schools that have more than 150 students. Now they will get Rs 8 instead of Rs 5.
“There is no end to money required, but I think with this much, schools should be able to manage. We are even encouraging some schools to cultivate their own vegetables,” MS Jaya, Director of Public Instruction, told NDTV.
But teachers say no matter how many children there are in a school, each child needs around Rs 15 a day for a hot, nutritious meal.