«School meals and classroom effort: Evidence from India a b c Farzana Afridi, Bidisha Barooah and Rohini Somanathan a Indian Statistical Institute ...»
School meals and classroom
effort: Evidence from India
a b c
Farzana Afridi, Bidisha Barooah and Rohini Somanathan
Statistical Institute (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org), b Delhi School of Economics (contact:
email@example.com) and c Delhi School of Economics (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
School Meals and Classroom Effort: Evidence from India* Farzana Afridia, Bidisha Barooahb and Rohini Somanathanc February, 2013 Abstract We use the exogenous policy shock of the extension of provision of school meals to upper primary grades in public schools in Delhi to study the effects of school meal intake on the cognitive effort of students within the classroom. Using individual level data on the performance of students in effort games both before and after the extension of the program, we find that the provision of meals significantly improved the classroom effort of students in grade seven. We conclude that school meals have the potential to increase educational attainment in the classroom.
JEL Classification: I21, I25, H52 Key words: school meals, effort, maze games, Delhi, India *The authors would like to thank the Department of Education, Government of Delhi and the International Growth Centre (LSE-Oxford) for financial support. This paper has benefitted from comments received from seminar participants at the Delhi School of Economics. The authors are solely responsible for any remaining errors.
a Economics and Planning Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, 7, S.J.S. Sansanwal Marg, New Delhi-110016. Email: email@example.com b,c Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi-110007.
b Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; c email@example.com
1. Introduction Nutritionists and social scientists have widely recognized the causal relationship between nutritional status and the learning ability of children. Thus one of the policy initiatives undertaken by governments in several developing and developed countries to improve learning outcomes among children is the provision of free or subsidized school meals.
There are three possible mechanisms by which school meals can improve learning outcomes. First, school meals can act as an incentive for parents to send their children to school more regularly by implicitly reducing the cost of schooling (Schultz, 2004;
Vermeersch and Kremer, 2004; and Afridi, 2011). Regular attendance at school can potentially lead to better educational outcomes. Second, school meals can improve the nutritional status of the child which, in turn, can affect her long-term cognitive ability (Behrman and Lavy, 1994; Glewwe, Jacoby and King, 1999). Third, school meals can impact learning outcomes by improving attention and classroom participation of children (Politt et al., 1981; Murphy et al., 1998, Gajre et al. 2008, Sigman et al., 1989; Kleinman et al., 1998), particularly in contexts where there is ‘classroom hunger’.
However, it is also possible that school meals adversely affect learning outcomes if the program creates additional pressures on limited school resources. For instance, Vermeersch and Kremer (2004) found that the introduction of school meals led to a considerable increase in class-size which in turn adversely affected learning-levels in Kenya.
In addition, there could be a re-allocation of school resources away from teaching, if for instance, teachers’ spent more time in the daily administration and distribution of the school meals. Thus, the overall effect of such a program on students’ educational attainment is ambiguous.
In this paper we study a specific mechanism through which school meals could improve students’ learning in public schools in Delhi, India - by improving the effort and attention that a child puts to a task within the classroom. Studies have shown that undernourished children are more likely to have behavioural problems such as attention deficit, depression and aggression which in turn inhibit educational attainment (Sigman et al., 1989; Kleinman et al., 1998). School meals could provide immediate alleviation from hunger, reducing distraction and increasing concentration among students (Politt et al., 1981; Murphy et al., 1998). In the long-term, therefore, school meals could improve classroom effort and thereby the educational attainment of students by improving their nutritional status.
We use the exogenous policy shock of extension of the school meal program to upper primary grades (6 to 8) from 29th September 2009 onwards in the public schools of Delhi to identify the effect of the program on children’s effort within the classroom. The paper utilizes student level data on performance in tests administered by the research investigators during multiple visits to randomly selected public schools both before and after the extension of the program. Schools whose randomly selected date of first visit fell before 29th September 2009 had not yet started the school meal scheme for upper primary grades, whereas those visited after 29th September were serving meals to upper primary grades. Sampled schools were revisited between February and April, 2010 when all public schools were providing the meals in upper primary grades. We define schools that changed their meal implementation status in the upper grades between the two visits as treatment schools and those that did not as control schools. Thus, children in grades 6 to 8 in treatment schools received the meals only during the second survey round while those in control schools were getting meals during both survey rounds. This allows us to use a double difference, intention-to-treat estimation strategy.
We measure students’ effort in terms of their performance in solving maze puzzles of increasing difficulty within a specified time. These tests were conducted in the classroom during regular school hours in both survey rounds. Thus, our main outcome of interest is the number of maze puzzles correctly solved by a student. Since the puzzles did not require either reading or writing skills but rather skills such as attention, perseverance and patience (Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007; Hoff and Pandey, 2006; Gneezy, Niederle, and Rustichini, 2003), we are able to focus on the immediate impact of the meal program on effort levels as opposed to standard tests of learning such as reading or math.
While there are numerous studies – experimental and survey – on the impact of school meals on cognition and learning through improvement in nutrition, the evidence from these studies is mixed. Adelman et al. (2008), Whaley et al. (2003) and Grantham-McGregor et al.
(1998) find a significant impact of school meals on cognition whereas Kazianga et al. (2009) find no impact at all. Adelman et al. (2008), Ahmed (2004), Whaley et al. (2003), Powell et al.(1998) and Powell et al. (1983) find significant improvement in learning achievement or test scores, whereas Kazianga et al. (2009) and McEwan (2010) find no impact. However, in the case of experimental studies, the effect of meals on cognitive tests and learning achievement tests is context specific and depends on the baseline nutritional status of the subjects. Our study contributes to the literature on school achievement and nutrition by analyzing the effect of school meals on effort as opposed to reading or math skills.
Our results suggest that the provision of school meals improved the class room concentration and effort of students in grade 7. The findings also suggest that school quality influences the extent to which school meals improve effort levels. Students in schools that had higher average scores in curriculum related tests gained significantly more from the extension of the meal program.
The conclusions of this paper have immediate policy relevance – provision of subsidized or free meals can improve the performance of students within the classroom. This carries implications for the long term learning outcomes and educational attainment of children, particularly in the context of hungry and nutritionally deprived children.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows – Section 2 gives the background of the school meal program in India, Section 3 describes the data and the methodology while Section 4 discussed the results. Conclusions and policy implications are discussed in Section 5.
2. Background: The Mid-Day Meal Scheme The National Program of Nutritional Support to Primary Education or the Mid-day Meal (MDM) Scheme was initiated by the federal government of India in August 1995 (Government of India, 1995). It mandated provision of cooked meals during school hours to all children enrolled in public primary schools (grades 1 to 5). In November 2001, the Supreme Court of India issued further guidelines “to implement the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme by providing every child in every government and government assisted primary school with a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days” (Supreme Court of India judgment, PUCL vs. Union of India and Others, 2001).1 In 2007 the mandate of the program was extended to cover children in upper primary grades (grades 6 to 8) in public schools. The calorific value of a mid-day meal at upper primary stage was stipulated to be a minimum of 700 calories and 20 grams of protein per child per school day (as against the stipulation for grades 1 to 5). However, the vast majority of public schools in the country failed to implement this extended mandate until more recently. We take advantage of this extension of the program in the public schools of Delhi.
The average number of school days in a year is 200 (20 days per month for 10 months). The initial deadline for implementation of this order was February 2002 which was later extended to September 2004 by the Supreme Court.
In Delhi, public schools fall under the purview of three local administrative agenciesthe Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Directorate of Education (DoE) of the Government of Delhi and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC). While the MCD runs only primary schools (grades from 1 to 5) the majority of middle, secondary and senior secondary schools are administered by the DoE. The DoE also runs composite schools that integrate all schooling levels into one, with grades from 1 to 12, known as Sarvodaya Vidyalayas. 2 The mid-day meals are provided to these schools by service providers contracted by the respective administrative agencies. In 2006-07 there were 40 school meal providers supplying meals to 2400 schools across Delhi. The estimated number of children who benefitted from the meal program was over 1 million.
We restrict our attention to the Sarvodaya Vidyalayas run by the DoE. In these schools, cooked meals were being served to children in grades 1 to 5 since 2003. The Government of Delhi extended the school meal program to upper primary grades (grades 6 to
8) from 29th September, 2009 onwards in keeping with the 2007 norms, mentioned above.
Although the extension of the program was in the offing since 2007, the exact timing of the program’s expansion was unanticipated in Delhi.
3. Data and Methodology A. Data The NDMC is mainly concerned with primary education, but also runs a select number of middle, secondary and senior secondary schools in its areas. According to the Planning Department, Government of Delhi (2003) there are approximately 1820 MCD primary schools, 2186 DoE schools and 100 NDMC schools, at different levels, in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. (http://www.delhiplanning.nic.in/Write-up/2002-03/volumeI/General%20Education.pdf) The data used in this study come from 18 randomly selected Sarvodaya Vidyalayas out of a total of 185 such schools managed by the Directorate of Education (DoE) in Delhi. We chose Sarvodaya schools for our study for three reasons: first, as pointed out above, Sarvodaya schools, as opposed to most other public schools in Delhi, contain primary (grades 1 to 5) and upper primary grades (grades 6 to 12). This allows us to compare and contrast the effect of the cooked meals on students in primary and upper primary grades holding the characteristics of the school constant. Second, admission into Sarvodaya schools in any grade is free of cost and on a first-come, first-served basis. 3 No screening in the form of admission tests or interviews is conducted for admission into these schools. This ensures that our sample of students is comparable to the average public school student in Delhi in terms of ability. Third, unlike the NDMC schools (some of which contain primary and upper primary grades), which are small in number and concentrated in the Central Municipality Zone of Delhi, Sarvodaya schools are spread across all municipality zones of Delhi. This makes our sample of students not only more representative but also allows us to assess any heterogeneity of effects of school meals.
The tests of effort (described in the following sub-section) were conducted in two phases – Phase 1 and Phase 2. The first phase of tests was conducted in grades 5 and 7 in the sampled schools between August and November 2009 while the second phase of tests were administered between February and April 2010 to the same grades (and students) in each of these schools.4 While grade 5 students were receiving school meals since they enrolled in Under the provisions of the new Right to Education Act, government schools have to admit students all through the year. However, this provision was not applicable at the time of this study. Schools were admitting students until 30th September for the current academic year.
We drop one school from our analysis due to incomplete data availability in Phase 1 which brings our total school sample to 17.
grade 1, grade 7 students would have received school meals till they were enrolled in grade
5.5 Hence the latter would not have received school meals for over one year.
Data on socio-economic characteristics, food-intake by students on the day of the survey, heights and weights of students were also collected after the tests. The test scores of students were matched to their family and individual characteristics using unique student identification numbers which are assigned to students at the time of their admission into the school. We randomly interviewed 10 students in each grade for additional details of students’ socio-economic characteristics such as parents’ occupation, number of siblings and type of residence.