In a telling sign of our times, midday meals and milk seem to have stemmed school dropout rates in Karnataka. Not many students are leaving government schools these days due to effective retention strategies, say experts.
The figures are inspirational to say the least, the number of out-of-school children has come down to 90,000 in 2016 from approximately 7,00,000 in 2001, according to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) officials. The number of dropouts in 2015-16 was 12,878.
Paradoxically, enrolment in government schools, which are in the forefront of the drive to arrest dropouts, too is dropping. Education officials attribute this to migration of students to private schools, mainly due to quota provided under the Right to Education (RTE), among other things.
"Students have stuck to government schools because of schemes like midday meal, Ksheera Bhagya, free textbooks, as also academic performance and efforts of the faculty," said Bella Shetty, joint director, Directorate of Public Instruction.
Akshaya Patra, which provides midday meals to schools, said there has been an increase of over 6,000 children in 2015-16 as compared to 2013-14. The NGO is now providing meals to 678 schools as compared to 568 in 2013-14.
“Government schools see 99% enrolment of poor children. Most of them are daily labourers and cannot afford 3 square meals a day and quality education is a distant dream. With the government's initiative to support children with various facilities, many parents are hopeful of a bright future”, Vasantha, principal, Government Model Primary School, Kodigehalli
“I am a mother of two and the family's sole breadwinner. Ensuring three meals for all is very hard for me. By providing lunch for my kids, the school takes a huge burden off my shoulder”, Varalakshmi, mother of a school student
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