Food for education

If attendance is one yardstick, the food for education scheme is a remarkable success in the Tarai and conflict-hit areas. Primary schools are teeming with students, who, in the absence of the programme, would have been chasing cattle in the fields. The initiatives under way to spread awareness on education on the one hand and to lure the female child to the classroom on the other offer free food in schools. So far, over 450,000 students have benefited from the programme. Lately, there has been a surge in the number of female students, especially after the government and the WFP launched the Girls’ Incentive Programme which assures two litres of cooking oil per month to the family that agrees to send girl child to school — regularly. So much so that the government is now planning to increase the quota under the scheme. Even those areas like Ramechhap, Manang, Mustang and Udaypur which otherwise register very low overall enrolment rate, far less girls, are now outperforming boys.

This pragmatic initiative has persuaded parents to think twice before keeping their wards at home. In fact, such programmes are success stories throughout the region, including several war-torn countries in Africa. In poor families, the need to ward off hunger is so intense that parents seldom think of disengaging their little ones from their daily chores. As a result, children are forced to work in the fields or even under hazardous conditions. If any measure can convince the parents to let their children study, so much the better. The food for education scheme has effectively done so and the government will have to engage in spreading awareness and encouraging those parents who have reservations against sending their kids to school.

Education is the sole remedy to a large number of socio-economic problems. Domestic violence is rife in the villages and so is poverty and hunger. If there is one thing that can tackle these problems, that is education. Female education is even more pivotal in transforming lives, as educated women are better mothers, who, in turn are more likely to send their kids to school. It also makes sense to prioritise such schemes for the marginalised communities as scant source of income forces the parents to send their children to work, depriving the latter much needed education. Several educational drives have bitten dust for failing to address this problem. Effective as food for education scheme has proved to be, the government must do all it can to raise the food quota the Ministry of Education and Sports thinks is indispensable to keep the concept afloat. It is also important to identify low enrolment areas and expand the project to other parts of the country.