The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari deserves applause for re-starting the school feeding programme, which was initiated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2004.
There are three major anticipated ways the programme will make an impact. It will boost access to basic education, especially among vulnerable groups such as girls; enhance participation, retention and achievement; and promote the health of the pupils.
When we measured progress on these indicators in 2005-2006, we recorded noteworthy gains in terms of enrollment of pupils in at least five states. Again, retention of knowledge spiked. In the states we studied, there was at least 28 per cent boost in access, and retention increased by 53 per cent. Pupils from poor families rushed to the school to eat free mid-day meals which in many cases were the most nutritious they would eat in a day.
The quest for this daily nutritious meal was a driver for them to attend school and this raised school retention. No empirical study was conducted at that time to find out the impact on the achievement of pupils. The hypothesis is that the school feeding programme will bolster performance in school and public examinations because of the direct impact of the programme on participation and retention.
Equally, good nutrition, through the school feeding programme, will promote the health of the pupils, which in turn has an indirect effect on learning. I do not have empirical data on the impact of the recent efforts of the Buhari administration’s school feeding programme, but I can conjecture that the results we recorded in our studies 12 years ago will not be different. Indeed, I anticipate improved impact.
What is critical is the sustainability of the programme and the participation of all stakeholders in its funding and implementation.
We must make it school-based, use local foodstuffs and cooks as well as ensure food safety and hygiene.
Mrs. Rakiya Suleiman (President, All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools, Kwara State chapter)
Yes, the school feeding programme is having an impact on the citizens, especially on the children who come from poor homes. There are some homes that children do not have access to three square meals daily. Some children do not even eat a balanced diet. So, the programme has enhanced sound health on the part of the pupils. The moment a child is healthy, he will be attentive in class. A child that is not well-fed will not concentrate during lessons and his retentive memory will not be sharp.
The programme has reduced malnutrition in our society. At the same time, food hygiene has improved among the children. Some pupils eat food prepared in unhygienic conditions, but this has reduced with the re-introduction of the programme by the Buhari administration.
It is not only the pupils who have benefited from it, the larger society too has benefited to a very large extent. Besides, it has improved the economy of Nigeria and the rate of poverty has also reduced. Since more people are engaged in food production and providing catering services for the programme, it means more Nigerians have secured employment. This has cut down illicit acts by some people who would have otherwise remained unemployed.
More emphasis is now being placed on agriculture and there is diversification of the economy from total dependence on oil to agro-business. There is evidence that many people are happy because of the employment opportunities provided by the programme. The school feeding programme is doing well in the benefiting states. Osun State is a very good example, where the state government has perfectly fused it into its own original school feeding policy.
Mr. Wakeel Amudah (Chairman, Nigerian Union of Teachers, Osun State chapter)
I believe that the school feeding programme is making positive impacts on the school system. You will remember that the school feeding programme was in existence in Osun State before the present Federal Government introduced it in other states. There is poverty in the country and Osun State is not an exception. But, the poverty level was perhaps, not well known to many people until this school feeding programme started.
For example, some of the pupils benefiting from it would not eat the eggs served them but would take them to their homes for other members of their families to also have a taste of the meal. The school feeding has led to an increase in enrolment figures in schools. Some parents are even bringing underage children to be registered in schools so that they can also benefit from the free meals.
The programme has also assisted pupils to concentrate more in class. There was a point in time when pupils were fainting in school as a result of hunger, but that has gone down now. The programme has also ensured that students remain in school because they always look up toward the break time when they will eat and some of them no longer want to be absent from school because they don’t want to miss the meals.
Mr. John Ihua (Port Harcourt-based human rights activist)
The school feeding programme is making an impact in the states where it has been implemented. You will appreciate the impact if you know the actual intention of the Federal Government in re-introducing the programme. The real intention of the government is to improve school enrollment in many states and the programme is already attracting children to school.
Some parents, who ordinarily cannot afford to send their children to school, are now sending them to school because the programme is reducing the burden of feeding on them. The government discovered that a lot of children, who are of school age, are on the streets and that one of the reasons they are not in school is food. They are there begging for food or trying to make money in order to secure their meals.
The government saw that if their feeding is taken care of, they may want to go to school. So, the government wants to use the scheme to attract more children to school. What the government is doing is to ensure that more children are educated by providing two meals daily. If the scheme is properly managed, it will make a great impact. One thing is to have an idea but the most important thing is to manage that idea. If this programme is properly managed, I think it will help to bring those who are not in school and those who are not willing to go to school, to go to school.
The government is on the right track with this programme. The states that are on the programme now did not start the same day. The government is moving from one state to another, launching the programme. I believe very soon they will include Rivers State.
Loggle Iyalomhe (Edo State Chairman, Nigerian Union of Teachers)
Well, the school feeding programme has yet to start in Edo State. But, I learnt that seminars and training sessions are going on toward the take-off of the programme. However, to me, it is not a priority. There are better things to do for our schools than the feeding programme. A child comes to school and after feeding, he has no chair to sit on or materials to write on. So, what is the use of the feeding when the schools lack basic facilities?
I believe that instead of using the funds for feeding, they should be channelled into other projects in the schools. I think the Federal Government is wasting resources on the feeding programme. The government needs to direct the resources toward other areas and not feeding.
I do not think that there are many children who will not eat before going to school. So, what is the use of the programme to a child without a uniform, no seat, books or good classrooms? When the school is attractive and has facilities for learning, the children will be encouraged to enrol. It is not only by feeding them. Some time ago, an organisation donated some recreational equipment to schools in Edo State. If the government can partner such organisations to do more, it will encourage them (pupils). The feeding programme is a misplaced priority.