In India, there apparently is such a thing as a free lunch.
The World Press Review reports that the government has mandated the world’s largest lunch program to keep 140 million public school students in the classroom.
An estimated 2.1 million Indian children die before age 5 each year, and malnutrition is also blamed as one of the causes of India’s high dropout rate.
Yet since the hot-lunch program debuted, the dropout rate for students 14 or younger has decreased from 32 million in 2001 to 7.6 million today, while overall enrollment figures and nutrition levels have increased.
A government official said the program helped lower the elementary school dropout rate from 12 percent to two percent between 2002 and 2007.
“One of the main reasons for this was the introduction of the scheme to give three eggs a week to the students,” Poongothai Aladi Aruna, the social welfare minister for India’s Tamil Nadu state, was quoted as saying by the Review.
One barrier to the program is its cost: Cash-strapped local governments have been slow to implement the hot-lunch mandate, and matching funds from the federal government aren’t always adequate.
However, a cost-saving measure to replace the hot lunch with packaged meals is strongly opposed by academics and other government officials, who feared the move would benefit corporations more than children.
Renuka Chowdhury, the government minister who proposed the switch, said her concern was a lack of infrastructure to deliver locally prepared hot meals.
“Where is the infrastructure? Where is the clean water for cooking? Where are the storerooms? What is to be done with leftover cooked food?” the Review quoted her as saying.
“India Offers Students Free Midday Meals as Incentive to Stay in School”
World Press Review, Aug. 6, 2008