According to the World Bank, India ranks amongst the highest countries with children suffering from malnutrition. Despite a rapidly growing economy, the disparity between the poor and the middle-class family in India grows wider, with young children all over the country taking up manual labour and dubious forms of income to earn enough for their daily meal.
Malnutrition affects children in different ways. Physically it stunts their development, reduces the efficiency of their immune system, and increases their risk of long term ailments and infections. Cognitively malnutrition decreases the ability to concentrate, and causes impaired learning skills and memory capacity. Socially malnutrition can cause reduced language development and social skills. Economically poverty keeps children and their families tied in a cycle of malnutrition that can continue for generations. Parents cannot afford to send their children to school because they need to contribute to the daily income, while children in turn grow up to be uneducated, predominantly unemployed, and lacking regular access to healthy food. It is this link between hunger and education that has helped perpetuate poverty in India.
Classroom hunger is a very real thing in India. Children who long to be educated may never see the inside of a classroom because of hunger. They cannot afford to spend a day studying when their family’s welfare depends on them contributing to the income. They cannot concentrate or analyse information when their bellies are starved of food.
The mid-day meal programme proposed by the Government of India, and taken up by NGOs across the country aims to address this issue of classroom hunger. By forming a public-private partnership with organisations like The Akshaya Patra Foundation, children are provided the free, tasty and nutritious mid-day meal at Government, and Government aided schools.
These meals act as an incentive for parents to send their children to school by relieving them of an extra mouth to feed, while it combats malnutrition in children and provides them with access to education at the same time. A study of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme has shown how effective this initiative is. By gaining regular access to sufficient food, the children benefitting from the programme have shown better concentration in class and academic progress, more classroom attendance and school enrolment, and lower school dropout rates.
Though malnutrition is an insidious ailment eating away at India’s socio-economic progress, initiatives like the mid-day meal programme provide a viable means to cure the cause and not just the symptoms. With the concerted efforts of the Government of India, corporates, donors and other well-wishers, India can one day achieve a hunger free society.