Learning in the absence of mid-day meals

By Aarti Mangal

Isn’t it ironical that the reason because of which mid-meals were introduced in the public schools is completely forgotten in this time of crisis when everybody concerned with education is only talking about e-learning or remote learning? Why cannot they talk about the basic necessities which are essential for learning to take place when several of these families go without work and money? It appears strange that ‘human’ and ‘life’ are not placed at the centre while developing measures for learning. Surely, the students are suffering from academic loss but why are academics failing to realize the other losses that these poor people are encountering in their daily lives during the period of lockdown?

The research studies all over India have suggested that the scheme of mid-day meal has improved the school enrollment as well as retention rates of students. This indicates that taking care of the basic needs such as food and health are essential for advising somebody to aspire for learning. How fair is it to ask the children to access WhatsApp or TV or radio for learning when their families are crumbling? When I pointed this out to somebody, the reply was, “All of us who have learnt know that learning and struggle are part of life.” While some people have to struggle to get through education/ learning, how insensitive it is on our part to push somebody to acquire learning who doesn’t have means to secure food. Primarily because of this reason, child labour is still a reality in India.

We can think about e-learning only for those who attend better private schools and usually belong to the middle or upper-middle class. Although there are limitations to the effectiveness of e-learning even in those categories, the current article is not concerned with that.

Opting or suggesting e-learning/digital learning for the students of government schools appears a sham, knowing about the impoverished background of almost all of the students attending these schools. Moreover, there isn’t requisite infrastructure available/accessible for these students nor are they digitally literate. Internet connectivity is also a huge issue, which comes at a certain economic cost. Why then the whole educational machinery is channelized towards making e-learning possible for these students many of who were able to attend the schools because of the provisions of mid-day meals? Is doing away with the academic learning of the students for 2-3 months such a huge concern in a country such as India which has not been able to come out with measures to improve the quality of these public schools?

The common school system was proposed as an answer to the deteriorating condition of the public schools but the government decides to look the other way and privatizes education with full rigour. As a result, low cost private schools have mushroomed at a greater speed leaving the poorest of the poor with a dilapidated public school system. It is ironical that the education department/stakeholders of public school system who were not much concerned about the quality of learning for these students when the schools were functional have become very eager about the learning of students when schools are not able to function.

Students irrespective of schools they attend should not suffer academically but we have to also consider the amount of suffering which is non-academic so that we can come up with meaningful measures. Giving so much importance to learning, knowing that if people do not survive this crisis there will be no coming back to the schools or education, is a loss of perspective. Putting so much emphasis on learning seems equivalent to subscribing to the competitiveness which we all have gotten so used to that we do not care about the lives and needs of people.

Learning should take place when other basic requirements are met. Why cannot all stakeholders of education think about catering to the food and health requirements of the students as well as their families at a priority basis? Can the education sector/department not work towards ensuring the meals of the students and their families in such a time of crisis? Only after that they should have advocated measures to prevent academic loss of the students.

Aarti Mangal is presently pursuing Ph.D. in Education at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has an interest in writing and in the past, few of her articles got published in Jansatta newspaper as well as The Hindu. She also writes poetry. Social emergent issues interest her. She has also written academic papers on the discourse of para teachers and on the history of teacher education in India.


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