Calling in for lunch

India boasts the largest school meal program in the world—with nearly 120 million kids receiving food through what is known as the “mid-day meal scheme.” The government-funded meal is generally quite simple—often just rice and lentils. But in a country as under-resourced and heavily populated as India, ensuring this basic food gets to the kids who need it is complicated—to say the least.

Nearly every month there are reports in the media of children getting sick and even dead creatures—lizards, frogs, rats and snakes—turning up in the food (particularly at rural schools). Officials blame the poorly maintained and unsanitary sheds often used as kitchens.

But food safety aside, simply monitoring the delivery of the meal program—in order to evaluate its success and make improvements—is an enormous challenge. Enter the techies at an Indian firm called Knowlarity who realized that while most schools don’t have internet connections, many people have cell phones.

“We call 150,000 schools every day using automated telephony to find out if the meal was distributed and generate reports in real time,” they explain on their website.

Schools in the state of Uttar Pradesh SMS back the details of their daily distribution and the government has the info right away rather than years later. Here’s hoping such monitoring—and the improvements that should follow—will eliminate the spectre of dead serpent surprise in the daily meal and ensure more kids have a chance at good health and an education.

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