HIDDEN HISTORIES Columns

One small meal for children, one giant leap for literacy

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HIDDEN HISTORIESThe idea of the noon meal scheme, now implemented across the country as the National Programme for Nutrition Support to Primary Education had its origins in a humble school in Mint Street, George Town.

Today, it is praised as one of the reasons for Tamil Nadu’s leading position in literacy. Generations of children from poor families came to school because of the one square meal they could have, and then stayed on to study. The idea of the noon meal scheme, now implemented across the country as the National Programme for Nutrition Support to Primary Education had its origins in a humble school in Mint Street, George Town.

The Hindu Theological School was founded in 1889, by a pioneering educationist – Sivasankara Pandya. He passed away in 1899 but the school flourished. In 1918, it took on its rolls as a teacher yet another personality – Kurichi Rangaswami Aiyangar. Born in 1888 in Thanjavur district, he aimed for a degree in law. When unsuccessful in his first attempt, he joined the Hindu Theological School.

One of his first observations was that several of the poor children of the area did not come to school. He also observed that among those who attended, several remained hungry during the lunch break, as their parents could not afford to send any food. Perhaps taking a leaf from the Chennapuri Annadana Samajam, which had begun sending cooked food to schools, he decided that the Hindu Theological would have its own kitchen. He seeded this with his savings and later aggressively canvassed for support from the parents of well-to-do students. The Deenabandhu Sangam was formed shortly thereafter which took on the task of providing the noon meal and also clothes to indigent students.

Aiyangar was to pass his law exam the subsequent year. He quit his job and donned the gown to practise law in Kumbhakonam. But the call of education was too strong. He was back at the Hindu Theological a short while later and stayed on to become headmaster in 1929. Ten years later, he became Secretary and Correspondent from which post he retired in 1944. He was immediately asked to take over as the Joint Secretary of the Lady Sivaswami Iyer Girls School in Mylapore. He became Secretary in 1953 and remained so till his passing in 1973. Widowed early in life, he chose not to remarry and dedicated his life to the two schools. In later years, he lived in a room in the Lady Sivaswami School.

The mid-day meal scheme was adopted in the 1920s by the Sourashtra community for a school it ran in Madurai. In 1956, K Kamaraj, then Chief Minister, introduced the scheme in some of the State-run schools. MGR, in1982, expanded the scheme, bringing into its ambit all the schools in the State run by the government. His detractors derided it as a populist move, which would drain the State exchequer. MGR went ahead regardless and the results are now available for all to see. In 2005, following a Supreme Court order, the scheme became compulsory in all States.

A small seed sowed by Rangaswami Aiyangar had become a massive tree.

The schools he nurtured continue to stand testimony to his greatness.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2019 10:51:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/one-small-meal-for-children-one-giant-leap-for-literacy/article3570254.ece

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