Ensuring quality food under the scheme is a major challenge, they say

Teachers spending less time in the classroom to engage in non-teaching activities is a perennial issue that has a direct impact on the standard of education.

According to a national-level survey conducted last year on "Involvement of Teachers in Non-teaching Activities and its Effect on Education', teachers actually spend mere 19.1% of their working hours in imparting knowledge and their remaining time is spent in election duty, carrying out surveys, pulse polio campaigns and maintaining the midday meal registers.

Management of midday meal scheme is increasingly becoming cumbersome for teachers. Insufficient and delayed receipt of funds, increased workload, procuring provisions from the fair price shops and lack of infrastructure for storage are others issues adversely affecting the scheme.

"Ensuring quality food under this scheme is a major challenge. The Dwcra group engaged in supply of food are unable to get their bills cleared in time. It becomes difficult for us to bring pressure on them when they tell us that they have not received payment for last many months," says S. Ramakrishna, headmaster of Gujjanagundla Municipal High School, Guntur, and president of Municipal Teachers' Federation (MTF).

Mr. Ramakrishna says headmasters are being made a scapegoat by the Vigilance Department staff during surprise checks to assess the stocks.

"Many of them have been given memos for 'discrepancies' in the stocks," he points out.

"Headmasters are sometimes questioned even for the size of the eggs supplied by a person appointed by the authorities," rues Vijay Kumar, School Assistant, Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal High School, Sriharipuram. The MTF leader has urged the Jagan Mohan Reddy government to shift the responsibility of the midday meal scheme to the newly-appointed village and ward secretaries.

"They can be handed over the task of distribution of textbooks, shoes and uniforms, online registrations of the proposed Amma Vodi programme and online entrance of marks and scholarship applications," he suggested.

The teachers feel that this will enable them to focus on academics and improve the result of their schools.

There are others who feel that monitoring of the food by HMs is imperative. "An agency can be engaged for supply of provisions and cooking of the food. But the headmasters should continue to monitor the attendance and quality of the food. Or the government can even think of engaging School Management Committees for the job, like it is done in Kerala," said P. Babu Reddy, general secretary, AP United Teachers' Front.

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