Teachers and students in both private and public secondary schools are yet to get to terms with the Ministry of Education’s instructions banning of canteens in schools.
The directive was issued last year on account of hygiene, student discipline and the financial burden canteens imposed on parents.
The State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Olivier Rwamukwaya, reiterated this during a field visit early this week to secondary schools in Kicukiro District, including G.S Masaka, King David and EFOTEK Kanombe.
“The policy has always been in place but some schools ignored it. We do not recognise the need for canteens in schools while students are well-fed at school. Parents pay school fees and do not need to give their children pocket money to spend in canteens. Canteens are a burden to parents,” Rwamukwaya said.
And, he expressed doubts on the standards of the food sold in the canteens.
“We have heard of some cases where children get sick after consuming food sold in canteens. If a child is fed at school, what is the canteen for? Parents should ensure that their children have enough school requirements before they leave home. If not, visiting days are there for parents to come and provide additional school materials in case there is a need for them. Schools, on the other hand, should prepare meals that meet the needs of the students,” he said.
Teachers, parents and students air concerns
In separate interviews with The New Times, some private and public secondary schools staff expressedmixed reactions.
While some disagree with the ministry directive, arguing that canteens were helpful to special needs students and other students who wanted to complement school diet, others agree with the ministry, saying canteens often lead to students’ indiscipline.
“School canteens are also very important for teachers’. However, they do not ease the management of students as far as discipline is concerned,’’ said Placide Twagiranyirigira, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire de Janja St Jerome in Gakenke District.
“Students with special health problems should be given balanced diet instead of having canteens in school. And though school canteens keep teachers at work, they also lead to theft and cases of inequality among students.”
Father Pierre Celestin Rwirangira, from Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare Indata n’ Inkesha School director, said schools should implement the policy and help the students understand the intentions.
Anethe Mutamuriza, the propriator of King David Secondary School, believes that the cases of food poisoning reported in the school recently were not caused by eating at the canteen but rather normal stomach upsets.
“Eight students were taken to hospital complaining of stomach pain. It was said that the problem was due to food from the canteen but I disagree. We had been selling bananas and milk in the canteen for a while, we have now closed. We are going to implement the policy and help students understand the move,” Mutamuriza said.
But some parents have called on the government to ensure that schools prepare meals that meet the dietary needs of the students before canteens can be phased out.
“A school canteen promotes theft and jealousy among students. But schools need to prepare meals that meet the needs of students,” said Valens Kwizera, a parent whose children study in boarding school.
Dieudonne Mbonigaba, another parent and former teacher, said canteens should be banned because they portray inequality and could encourage theft among students.
“Students who have no money to eat from canteens will always feel inferior to those who have. Some students will be tempted to steal so that they can also be able to get money to visit canteens,” Mbonigaba said.
“Parents would be required to give their children extra money yet school fees and materials are already a burden. There is no need of canteens in schools.”
But students disagree with the policy, saying that the meals that are provided for them are poor.
“Not having a canteen at school affects us negatively. If we go for tea outside the school, we are most likely to be involved in other activities or get punished by the school administration,” said a student in Burera District who preferred to remain anonymous.
Emmanuel Hategekimana, a student at College APARPE in Nyabihu District said he is grateful for the school canteen services because it helps students concentrate on schoolwork.
Innocent Habumugisha, a student from Christ Roi Nyanza, said some schools cannot afford balanced diet for students so canteens come in handy.