For a better tomorrow
At a time when the pandemic has brought daily life to a grinding halt, WB Government’s efforts to provide mid-day meals to students ensures that education can continue
Modern research on education defines three cardinal principles — scope, equity and quality. While analysing the method for ensuring these three, it was revealed that one of the greatest impediments to all the three above stated factors is the availability of food for the learners. The present threat of Coronavirus has created a conflict between the preservation of life and livelihoods and as a result, millions have found themselves stranded in the bleak corridor of hunger. Education, too, has not escaped the threat of COVID-19 unscathed.
Realising that in the present, it is school education that is most affected, the West Bengal Government has responded to this area of concern with some genuine and result-yielding plans. School education is different from higher forms of education because here the recipient component or the students are having a demographic base which is the most heterogeneous one. Bearing this in mind, the Education Department of West Bengal has framed measures to provide the students studying under the curriculum of West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education with intellectual and nutritional nourishment. Pertaining, to this, measures have been adopted to use digital aid in reaching the students through the medium of television and also through educational web-portals. Along with this, the Mid-day Meal Programme which cannot be continued in the regular conventional manner because of the lockdown has been tailored to provide food to the students. While framing such a plan, the utmost care has been taken not to allow any child to come and collect the distributive items. The guardians are to represent the respective students in this regard.
The pragmatic part of this plan is the decision of distributing dry food items, for cooked food would have been impossible to arrange at this juncture. No educational or intellectual pursuit can be carried out for long while depriving the stomach. Swami Vivekananda emphasised on poverty as a great deterrent to education. Today we are living in trying times where people are finding it difficult to arrange a square meal for themselves and their families. The Mid-day Meal Programme has been designed to remove the impediment of hunger from education. This is a unique school level programme from the first standard to the seventh, financed by the Central Government and managed under the stewardship of the respective state governments. This programme is perhaps the most effective weapon to combat the problem of school drop-outs, thus promoting basic and elementary education for all or 'Sarva Shiksha'.
In West Bengal, this programme was rolled out anew in the third week of March, immediately before the lockdown and in the third week of April, where students from the first standard to eighth received per person, a quantity of two kilograms of rice and potatoes each in the first phase and three kilograms of rice and potatoes each in the second phase. The third phase of the programme is scheduled in the first and second week of June. This time the quantity to be received by each student would amount to two kilograms of rice and potato each. Certainly, this ensures a meal of rice and potato for one student for nearly a month or so. With this security, on-line education would certainly be more effective for now the student can satisfy his academic interest without worrying about food. The Mid-day Meal Programme is an integral part of school education and the conduct of it even during lockdown testifies that school education is not locked.
The continuation of school education in all patterns of Government stake-holds is a big boon for the entire community at large. It is also psychologically healthy that the students remain in constant touch with their educational task. So when school students are receiving tasks, lessons through the on-line mode of education, the time has come for us to reappraise the context of how fruitful the Mid-Day Meal Programme is. Here lies the vindication of the endeavour of the Government. We have to remember that a huge number of school students come from the underprivileged section of the society. To them, the combination of the opportunity of on-line and digital-based education and the benefits of the mid-day meal programme is like the icing on a cake. Therefore, it is subject to a huge reciprocation as more than ninety per cent of the target group participated, totalling more than ten million students. It needs to be mentioned here that the whole process of distribution of food materials is carried out while maintaining strict hygienic rules. The schools are sanitised properly and physical distancing is made mandatory during the process of distribution. Guardians of students coming from the containment zones are not even allowed to physically collect the items. The school authorities coordinate with the local bodies of administration to make the food items reach the concerned students. In this way, no one is left out from the corpus of distribution, and yet, social distancing and lockdown rules are maintained.
The inception of the Mid-day Meal Programme was effected to address the sociological base of education. The great philosopher Rousseau opines about the necessity of linking educational measures with the social standard of the learners. The Sarva Shiksha Mission rests on the foundation of democratisation of education and such initiatives of West Bengal Government serve as a kind of a path-finder, particularly at a time when the pandemic is expected to create a substantial number of school drop-outs. Only such efforts can demean the danger that looms large on the academic life of students coming from the pedigree of penury. For the last few years, West Bengal has been amongst the top three states in the performance level of executing the Mid-day Meal Scheme. This initiative also further testifies to the educational theory that the educational system is not just to ensure that lessons are imparted; it must also ensure that the lessons are imparted with provisions for the proper physiological and psychological ambience of the students. Today, when our Prime Minister is vouching for 'Atma Nirbhar Bharat', the need for a flexible educational system and student-centric measures stand paramount. The domain of school education is the most widely expanded and hence seeks utmost attention. The continuation of the Mid-day Meal Programme in this sensitive hour is encouraging and reassuring. It proves above all that regardless of dire circumstances, education marches on and so does life.
Views expressed are personal