Last year, the education ministry passed a directive banning school canteens, to the disappointment of some parents and students. As a result, there have been calls for government from a section of education stakeholders to relax the rules and allow school canteens to operate freely.
However, during a field visit around schools in Kicukiro district recently, State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Olivier Rwamukwaya, dashed any such hopes when he maintained that the directive was issued on account of hygiene, student discipline and the financial burden canteens imposed on parents.
“We do not recognise the need for canteens while students are well fed at school. Parents pay school fees and don’t need to give their children pocket money to spend in canteens. Canteens are a burden to parents,” Rwamukwaya told The New Times before expressing his 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. Besides, parents can use visitation days to bring additional school materials in case there is a need. Schools, on the other hand, should prepare meals that meet the needs of the students,” he added.
Jean Pierre Habimana, the district education officer of Kicukiro, also adds that the decision to regulate canteens was largely taken to ensure safety of students. “First, the source of foodstuff sold in school canteens could not be ascertained. Secondly, it was hard to trust that the place where the food was prepared before finding its way into the canteen was clean. As a result, a number of learners used to suffer food poisoning.”
He, however, says that some products, whose preparation and handling is trusted, are allowed in canteens at school.
“It is not true that students cannot access anything completely at school. For example milk from Inyange industries is accepted because we are sure about its source. At Kagarama Secondary School for example, this milk is supplied and we have no problem with that,” he adds.
Despite the ministry’s strict stance on school canteens, some stakeholders have some reservations.
Jane Nakaayi, a teacher at Riviera High School, expresses fear over possible contamination from the central collection points for water. “You realise that students have to collect drinking water from common points, this makes it easy for bad-hearted individuals to contaminate the water. Although canteens may have their problems, they may limit the risk of such tragedies especially in highly populated schools,” Nakaayi says.
But Dorothy Kanyangye, a science teacher at Mount Camel School in Kimironko, agrees with the ministry. “In a school environment, not every student can afford to go to the canteen. As others frequent it, others will just look on hence creating classes among students,” she argues. She says for as long as there is no alternative for students who cannot afford snacks, canteens should not be allowed in schools.
Paul Swaga, a language instructor at Akillah Institute for Girls, however, warns that preventing students from accessing food from school canteens wouldn’t entirely stop them from finding what they want elsewhere.
“They won’t buy the snacks or food within the schools but they can find them outside school, may be on their way home after classes,” Swagga says, calling for a revision of policy.
“Clean packed foods like biscuits, sodas and juice should be allowed in school because there are those students who have health problems and feel uncomfortable with school food,” he adds.
And just like Swaga, Theophile Habiyambere, the director of studies at Gashora Girls School, believes that policy is not helpful to learners with health challenges. “In the absence of such facilities (canteens) at school, students will find another way to spend the money. Therefore, banning school canteens is not necessarily the solution,” Habiyambere says.
He is of the view that instead, strict guidelines governing canteens should be put in place to create a win-win situation. “Parents should be advised to regulate the amount of money they give their children while students should also avoid being extravagant,” Habiyambere explains.
Parents speak out
Just like teachers, parents also remain divided on the issue.
“During my time in school, canteens were allowed and from experience, I realized that having variety of foodstuff at your disposal helps you settle and concentrate in class,” says Philip Nsengiyunva, a bus driver.
Sandrine Mukarugwiza, a parent residing in Muhima, Kigali, says the decision to ban canteens in schools does not favour the welfare of students. “It is not right to dictate on what foods one should eat or not. There should be a wide range of choices to pick from and canteen owners sensitized about good hygiene,” she explains.
But Josian Butera, a parent living in Kicukiro, says canteens would be welcome if they did not promote theft among learners. “Most of children end up stealing money from their parents because they want to be like other students at school,” Butera explains.
John Bosco Ngarambe, a businessman, however, disagrees with Butera saying many students who steal do so because it is a habit. “If a student is a thief, it is not because of the canteens, it is a matter of indiscipline that should be addressed at home.”
Students miss canteens
For many students, no argument that justifies the banning of canteens seems convincing enough.
Eloi Mugabe, a former student at College du Christ Roi in Nyanza, says canteens were not allowed in his former school in order to ‘promote equality among students’. He however, disagrees with that argument. “For the six years I spent at school there was no canteen but where on earth can you find people at the same level? Even those who steal to frequent the canteen can be helped to reform,” Mugabe says.
Jean Claude Bazameraho, a senior three student at GS Kimironko, believes a canteen is necessary to improve diet.
“Canteens were banned when I was in senior one but they used to help us a lot especially to break the monotony of school meals.”
But for a student only identified as Mutabazi from Ecole Technique de Muhazi, canteens are not necessary as long as the meals at school are good.
According to the school health policy, there are three feeding programmes in schools: One Cup of Milk per Child, which serves pre-primary and primary school pupils in Grade 1-3 with milk two times per week, the Secondary School Feeding Programme, and the WFP-implemented programme that provides cooked lunch to primary and lower secondary school children in food insecure districts with a ration of a hot meal consisting of fortified maize meal, beans, vegetable oil and salt.
On top of this, boiled or treated water is provided to the learners for drinking.
Parents, students speak out
Diana Simbi, student at Mt Kenya University
School canteens are necessary to enable students access some important items that the school might not be able to provide. Secondly, it teaches students from rich families to share foodstuff with colleagues that may not afford a similar lifestyle.
Jacky mbabazi, a resident of Nyabugogo
Schools should be allowed to run canteens because they are usually more affordable than shops outside school. It also saves a lot of students’ precious time that would otherwise have been spent moving around looking for a service.
Alfred Munyeshyaka, a parent
I disagree with the idea of banning school canteens, if at all it is there. What would happen to students who have for instance been directed by doctors to take milk everyday for health reasons? The best solution is for authorities to first consult learners, teachers and parents before banning canteens.
Robinson Nkurunziza, businessman in Kimironko
I support the idea of abolishing canteens in schools because it helps students concentrate on academics instead of longing for break to buy edibles. However, those that don’t serve lunch should let learners carry their own lunch.
Susan Mutoni, student at University of Rwanda
Schools have students from different backgrounds: rich and poor. Therefore if canteens are not regulated, it could cause divisions between these two groups and affect some people’s performance. Canteens can also promote theft among the poor students in order to ‘catch up’ with their rich friends.
Hilary Mpayana, an architect in Kigali
I think it’s proper to ban canteens at school for the sake of instilling discipline among students. Students from rich families tend to look down on those from humble backgrounds. It also minimises the temptation by learners to steal from their parents in order to finance their exaggerated appetite.