The State Government is looking at the possibility of extending the school meal programme to first and second year PU students as well. About 55 lakh students from class 1 to 10 in government and government-aided schools are currently covered in Karnataka.
“I see a need here, and we are trying to see how best we can address it,” Primary and Secondary Education Minister S.Suresh Kumar told ET.
According to him, at many places, the same premises houses both high school and PU college. “At these places, we provide meals to students in only one part of the building and ignore the other. In several cases, siblings study in different classes. While those in high school get their meal, others in the PU classes don’t get,” the Minister said.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which runs the world's largest school meal programme by providing 1.7 million meals a day across 12 states, welcomed the thought. Karnataka will be setting an example if it can do it because most states provide school meals only up to class 8, and Karnataka is already ahead by covering up to class 10, Foundation vice chairman Chanchalapathi Dasa said.
“That is a great opportunity to meet the nutritional needs of future mothers of our country. Adolescent girls should get right nutrition; otherwise, they risk giving birth to malnourished children later,” Dasa said. The Foundation runs modern kitchens at 43 locations and 20 more are in the pipeline.
Adamya Chetana chairperson Tejaswini Ananthkumar said she has made out a strong case with the Education Minister. “A large number of students from rural areas leave home early to come to the city to study PUC. Midday meals will help such students because they usually don’t have proper breakfast,” she added. Her Bengaluru-based nonprofit supplies about 1.5 lakh hot meals to schools in Karnataka and Rajasthan.
Her organisation, she added, is prepared to meet the additional food requirement in schools it already covers if the government can bear the conversion costs (vegetables, pulses, oil, spices & gas).
The mid day meal is a centrally-sponsored programme and funds only up to class 8. Since Karnataka has included class 9 and 10, too, the State bears the additional costs. In Karnataka, the programme covered 42 lakh children (up to class 8) in 2018-19. The number was, however, higher by four lakh in 2015-16.
“I have seen many students studying in Kannada medium becoming dull after joining college because they no longer get afternoon meals. Bringing them under the programme will, am sure, go a long way in their overall development,” Tejaswini Anathkumar said.