India: free lunch boosts children’s test scores

11 April 2019

Primary school children given free school lunches have significantly better learning outcomes.

Scientists from ESMT Berlin and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) studied the effects of India’s midday meal scheme, the world’s largest free school lunch programme, feeding over 120 million children every day.

Children with up to five years of midday meals had reading test scores 18% higher than those of students with less than a year of school lunches. They also showed an improvement of 9% in maths test scores.

This was the longest and largest study of the scheme, using data from nearly 600 rural districts and more than 200,000 households.

‘The effect of nutrition appears to be cumulative, seen over time,’ said Professor Rajshri Jayaraman of the IIT. ‘Previous studies have varied between two weeks and two years failed to capture the important impact – our research shows that the real benefit of school lunches was seen in children exposed for two to five years.’

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