School dropout rate up as food incentive withdrawn

Dadeldhura, May 27 :

Ten-year-old Tek Raj Sarki, a fifth grader at Bhumiraj primary school in Baghchaur, Dadeldhura, is the most irregular student in his class this year.

“I don’t want to go to school because they do not provide me halwa,” he said. Sarki is the only one in his family of six to attend school. He got enrolled in school after the Food for Education (FfE) project was introduced in the district. His family is poor and the food produced from a small chunk of land is barely enough to keep them alive for three months.

The number of students from Dalit communities has decreased drastically in primary schools in Amargadi municipality after the suspension of FfE programme. Dadheldhura District Education Office announced the suspension of FfE programme on March 16.

Under the programme, each schoolchild receives a hot mid-day meal (halwa). The girl child also receives two litres of vegetable oil per month if she attends 80 per cent classes.

No child from the Dalit communities got enrolled this year at Tripura Sundari Primary School (TSPS) at Birkhamb in Amargadi after the FfE was suspended. Out of 96 students, 28 were from Dalit communities. But, this year, not a single girl got enrolled.

“Dalits here think that it is the responsibility of the school to provide food for students; this needs to be changed,” said Kalawati Dwariya, a teacher at Bhumiraj school. “The girls from Dalit communities have stopped coming to school because their parents have started making them do household chores after the suspension of distribution of vegetable oil.”

Narendra Bahadur Khadayat, school management committee chairman of TSPS, said the programme should be continued “if we intend to attract more children from backward communities to the school”.

Purna Bahadur Ranabhat, programme director at FfE Project under the Ministry of Education, said that the schools in the municipality were excluded due to limited quota for the district. “The decision was taken as per the recommendation by the district level monitoring committee. The programme has been introduced to support those children who cannot enrol in schools due to food deficit,” said Ranabhat.

“It is our policy to shift programme gradually to areas where rate of out-of-school children is high,” said Ranabhat. He said the policy is applicable in all the 21 districts where the programme has been launched. The FfE project started in 1996. Now it is a part of the World Food Programme (WFP). The main objective of the activity is to increase access to basic primary education for families in food-deficit districts and to improve the health and nutritional status of schoolchildren.