School feeding programme gets off to a shaky start

A new school feeding scheme in the 12-Year Basic Education (12YBE) schools has been welcomed by many but there are already concerns about its sustainability.
Children enjoy milk at school. (File)
Children enjoy milk at school. (File)

A new school feeding scheme in the 12-Year Basic Education (12YBE) schools has been welcomed by many but there are already concerns about its sustainability.

Fears that the programme may not succeed emerged after government made clear that parents should shoulder the burden of feeding their children while at school, with some parents and schools saying there is need for government to throw more weight behind the scheme.

The decision to start the nationwide school feeding programme was taken during this year’s Leaders Retreat, with officials saying it could help improve learners’ concentration at school and performance, as well as fight malnutrition.

It was agreed that 12YBE schools should work closely with parents to ensure the programme succeeds.

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Rwamukwaya is sworn in as state minister for primary and secondary education in July. (File)

The retreat outlined three options to make the scheme as inclusive as possible. The first option is for parents to pay a fixed amount of money for schools to feed their children; the second is for children to pack food to eat while at school; while the third allows parents who cannot afford the first two options to work as casual labourers at the same school and then the latter would feed their children.

The Ministry of Education, while acknowledging the complexities involved, has embarked on a sensitisation campaign to urge local leaders to support the schools in getting all the concerned parents to participate.

The objective, officials say, is for all children in 12YBE schools to have their lunch at school, without child going hungry.

The ministry continues to engage parents, schools and local leaders on what each party can do to make the programme as success.

“Parents should feed their children at school like they do at home. They should bring their contribution or food items to feed their children so they can study well,” the Minister of State for Primary and Secondary Education, Olivier Rwamukwaya, said.

He added: “In case one is unable to raise the required money or get their children food to take to school, they should negotiate for casual jobs with the schools so their children can be fed,” he added.

But some parents and schools remain skeptical.

They argue that some parents are too poor to afford the money.

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Primary school children enjoy a meal at school. (File)

At most of the schools The New Times visited, each parent is required to pay between Rwf12, 000 and Rwf15, 000 per student per term, an average of between Rwf200 and Rwf300 per day.

Others argue that the money is not enough to meet the children’s feeding requirements and may lead to health problems.

‘No schoolchild should go hungry’

“It is very difficult for me to raise the money,” said a mother only identified as Musabyemariya, a resident of Muhoza Sector, Musanze District. “I am supposed to pay Rwf36, 000 per term for my three children who are all in 12YBE schools, besides buying them scholastic materials.”

The mother of six added: “I took my children to 12YBE schools because I thought they were more affordable and easily accessible but it looks like all this is gradually changing because we are now required to pay more for feeding. I am afraid my children may end up dropping out of children if nothing changes,” she said. 

Moise Nshimiyimana, a S5 student at Butandi I school in Burera District, said he does not take lunch with the other children because his parents had not paid the feeding fee.

“Whenever it is lunchtime, I and a few others find a place nearby to go to pass time as others have their lunch. You can’t be allowed to eat when you have not paid. My parents said they have no money to pay for me and my two younger sisters,” he said.

But minister Rwamukwaya insisted that school heads should work closely with parents and local leaders and ensure no child is left out of the scheme.

 Local leaders’ take

Samuel Sembagare, the Mayor of Burera District, said they will work closely with poor parents to make sure the programme is successful. He also called for mindset change among parents.

Pricilla Uwiragiye, the vice-mayor in charge of Social Affairs in Bugesera, attributed failure by some parents in the district to meet the feeding cost for their schoolchildren to the fact that many families in the area were still reeling from the effects of prolonged drought experienced in recent days.

Bugesera is among the districts in the country that pioneered in the school feeding programme, thanks mainly to the support from the World Food Programme (WFP). But the UN agency pulled out of the scheme in 2012, posing a key challenge to the programme.

“There are parents who have already paid but others have not. We still have challenges as some people are too poor to get the money. We are planning to work closely with some NGOs so they can support the poor families,” Uwiragiye said.

Need for govt intervention

But there are also concerns that teachers may not feel motivated because they no longer receive capitation grant. Initially, students would pay some money in capitation grant (for teachers) and construction charges, but this has since stopped.

“This is a serious issue that requires government intervention. It should not be left to parents alone. We are now stuck; some parents are reluctant to pay while others cannot afford the money,” said one head teacher who preferred anonymity.

“We also find it too difficult to insist that some parents come and do casual work in exchange for lunch for their children. Besides, with the little money students pay, it will be difficult to make this programme sustainable.

“There are also possibilities that some children may drop out of school as a result, while those on the feeding programme might not get all the basic nutrients,” he added. 

Another teacher who also preferred anonymity said it was “unfair” to scrap capitation grant which supplemented teachers’ salaries, adding this had affected teachers’ morale.

Eduard Munyamariza, the chairperson of Civil Society Platform, said while feeding children should be a parents’ responsibility, government should significantly contribute towards the programme.

Parents have the responsibility to feed their children but government should find a way of helping those who are unable to pay the money. It is not good to see some children to go hungry at school. This might compromise their performance,” Munyamariza said.

The State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education admitted that the school feeding programme needs to be revisited. “It is an issue that we will discuss at the ministry and find the best possible way forward. Someone cannot give what they do not have,” Rwamukwaya said.

“There is some money that’s given to districts, we could see whether it’s possible to use part of it to feed schoolchildren from poor families,” he added.

About school feeding

School feeding programme is defined as “targeted social safety nets that provide both educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children, thereby increasing enrollment rates, reducing absenteeism, and improving food security at the household level.”

Beyond improvements in access to food, school feeding programmes also have a positive impact on nutritional status, gender equity, and educational status, each of which contribute significantly to  human development.

While school meals are provided by governments of developed and middle-income countries around the globe, the low-income countries find it difficult to provide meals to school-going children.

School feeding in low-income countries often starts through funding by international organisations such as the United Nations World Food Programme or the World Bank or national governments.

 According to the World Food Programme, 66 million primary school children go hungry every day, with 23 million hungry children in Africa alone.

Furthermore, 80 per cent of these 66 million children are concentrated within just 20 countries.

Additionally, 75 million school-age children (55 per cent of them girls) do not attend school, with 47 per cent of them living in sub-Saharan Africa.

 Thus, the need to reduce hunger while increasing school enrollment in these children is evident, and school feeding programmes have been developed to target this multi-faceted problem.

Schools have become a natural and convenient setting for the

implementation of health and education interventions. School feeding is just one facet of school health initiatives, as other programmes may include de-worming, HIV/Aids prevention, education, as well as life and health skills education.

Overall, school feeding programmes have been shown to directly increase the educational and nutritional status of recipient children, and indirectly impact the economic and social lives of the children and their families.

Additionally, school feeding directly addresses the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing hunger by one-half, achieving universal primary education, and achieving gender parity in education by 2015.

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