Schools in most dists benefit from scheme, but, Kovai teachers say food quality dipped this academic year; kids seek more varieties
COIMBATORE: This is not a freebie. In fact, it is the foremost duty of the government to ensure its children are fed,” said Chief Minister MK Stalin on September 15 last year while unveiling the Chief Minister’s Breakfast Scheme in 1,545 schools in Tamil Nadu. The pioneering initiative received much praise from across the nation since the Dravidian-model government achieved this even as the union government had to backtrack from a similar proposal mentioned in the New Education Policy after its finance ministry ballparked the fund requirement to a whopping Rs 4,000 crore.
Over 10 months after its inception, the scheme, which initially covered 114,000 children studying in Classes 1-5, has only grown in popularity. A study conducted by the school education department revealed that attendance has increased in almost all the government primary schools, where the scheme was introduced. TNIE recently visited several schools across the state to assess the ground reality.
While the scheme has been smooth sailing in most districts, teachers and staff at several schools in Coimbatore district said the food quality had deteriorated this academic year. K Revathi (name changed), a teacher at a corporation primary school in Coimbatore west zone told TNIE, “About two weeks ago, the semiya upma our school received was watery and not cooked properly. We couldn’t take the risk of feeding our students clumsily prepared food. So, that day over 50 students at our school had to fill their stomachs with biscuits. When enquired, we learnt that several schools faced the same issue that day.”
Coimbatore, around 12,900 children eat breakfast at 121 corporation primary and middle schools under the scheme. An employee, who serves the food at a middle school in Veerakeralam said the food quality has declined over time. “Lately, we have been receiving substandard food on many days. For instance, vegetables in kichadi are not cooked properly and students avoid them. This defeats the whole purpose of the scheme as the children are not getting any nutrition. Due to these issues, some parents have asked their wards not to eat breakfast at school. This, in turn, leads to wastage of food,” she said. When contacted, Corporation Education Officer J Mariyaselvam told TNIE that they have received complaints from some schools and are taking steps to provide quality food for the children.
Meanwhile, the scheme has garnered only plaudits from schools in other districts, including Chennai, Villupuram, Madurai, Kanniyakumari and Thoothukudi. When TNIE visited the schools, teachers said students are content with the food quality. In Chennai, the breakfast scheme is being implemented at 37 schools. Though no complaint was raised about the quality of food, teachers in smaller schools said they had a lot on their plate due to the breakfast scheme. “Our school has around 50 students, a headmaster and a teacher. When one of us takes a long leave due to some emergency, the other person has to come to the school at 7 am daily to oversee the scheme work,” they said.
In Villupuram, the scheme now caters for 12 schools. TNIE visited a government primary school on Hospital Road and spoke to the students. “We get breakfast early in the day and it is very tasty. I rush to school daily so that I don’t miss it. I particularly like arisi upma and pongal,” said KJ Darshini, a Class 5 student. Class 2 student S Saranraj’s favourite is Kesari. “We don’t make it often at home, but at school, I get to eat Kesari every week. However, I also wish they served idli now and then,” he said. According to school headmistress J Geetha, there is an app wherein they have to upload pictures of food, and feedback daily.
Teachers at corporation schools in Madurai, however, felt the scheme would be more effective if the food is served during school hours. “As it is now served between 8 and 9 am, several students end up missing it. Also, the menu could be improved by adding fruits or millet-based food. Serving vermicelli upma, rava upma or wheat upma daily might not provide sufficient nutrition to the kids. Students also get bored of sambar as they sidedish daily. Chutney could be provided with the meals occasionally,” they opined.
In Kanniyakumari too, the response was mostly positive. M Muthu Lekshmi, who is studying Class 5 at a government primary school in Nagercoil, said she always eats breakfast at the school. “The food is very tasty, especially the upma, kesari, and wheat kichadi.
‘Lot on our plate’
Teachers in smaller schools in Chennai said they had a lot on their plate due to the breakfast scheme. “Our school has 50 students, an HM and a teacher. When one of us takes a long leave, the other person has to come to school at 7 am to oversee scheme work. This burdens us and affects our teaching,” the teachers rued
Watery semiya upma
A school teacher in Coimbatore’s west zone said, “About two weeks ago, the semiya upma our school received was watery and not cooked properly. That day over 50 students had to fill their stomachs with biscuits.