10-year-old Favour Vincent and nine years old Kamorudeen Abdulsadiq, both primary four pupils of Anthony Udofia Elementary school in Osogbo, Osun state enjoy going to school regularly. For them, absence from school is a taboo and the reason is not farfetched.
“I like the school because our teachers are nice and the compound is very beautiful,” Favour stated while Kamorudeen added that, “we have a play ground with beautiful toys and swings.”
Same goes for Precious Nwankwo, a primary four student of A.U.D Government Elementary school, Gbonmi and Abioduna pupil of A.U.D Elementary School, Isale Osun. The beautiful environment is however not the only attraction, like many other pupils, lunch time is a basic attraction to many of them as the government feeds them every lunch time period.
And the food is not haphazard or subjected to the whims of the cooks, as it is uniform all over the state elementary schools and the students were quick to recite their food timetable to Nigerian Tribune; Monday, they eat bread and stew with egg, Tuesday is for Rice and bean with chicken stew, Wednesday is potato and fish stew, Thursday, they eat Rice with melon soup and chicken while on Friday, lunch is yam porridge with vegetable and meat. And after lunch, the students are given a short break to take fruits.
This is the result of the Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme formerly known as the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFP) but now known as O-meals and it is longest surviving school meal programmes in the country at present.the state government restructured the programme to cater for 262,000 students daily and empower over 3007 community caterers.
Originally initiated by the Federal Government in 2004 as a Universal Basic Education (UBE) project, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola on assumption of office undertook a comprehensive review of the inherited school feeding arrangement and overhauled it to O-meals which he officially launched on the 30th April 2012 and has been on since without break throughout the State.
And the result of this aside the various accolades given the project is the huge increase in the enrolment rate of public schools within the state as parents now withdraw their children from private schools to be enrolled in government schools not only because it is free or there is free food but also because it has more facilities than many private schools within the state.
O-meals has gained national and international endorsements. Partnership for Child Development (PCD) United Kingdom and the Government of the State of Osun signed the Osun Elementary School Feeding Transition Strategy Plan Document to further strengthen the programme.nov 2012
The project is to reverse the low academic performance of pupils against the background that good nutrition is necessary for the development of cognitive skills and the minimum spent by government on each pupil daily is around N250.
The enrolment rate in public elementary schools have increased by a minimum of 40 per cent as a result of the programme and recently, a delegation of the Federal Government’s Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme, an initiative which aims at feeding over 24 million school children nationwide, visited the State of Osun to understudy the success recorded by the state’s O-meals scheme.
At present, Osun remains the first reference point when it comes to free school feeding programme in public schools in Nigeria as even in the face of harsh economic situation, the Aregbesola administration never considered stopping the scheme even for a day, a reason it has become a template for the federal government to develop its own.
The Osun O-meals scheme is one that has proved that there can be a workable system in the country as the pupils are not just fed; they are fed with food that will aid their mental growth and physical health in the required quantity. And the food items used to prepare these meals as well as the fruits with which they are fed with is sourced from the Osun farming communities, in a way empowering the farming communities.
Speaking on the feeding scheme, the Chief of Staff in the state, Alhaji Adegboyega Oyetola, told the correspondent that the school feeding programme has been on for five years. “It covers pupils from primary one to four and they are entitled to this every day, we are talking of very delicious meal that has all the necessary nutritional contents and is balanced; they eat eggs, chicken, vegetables and fruits among other balanced food items.
“We are talking of 262,000 pupils and the cumulative expenditure is about N3.6 bn annually. There is huge increase in enrolment in schools as it has encouraged children to come to school, even those that used to avoid schools and there is no discrimination. It is not based on tribe, religion or party affiliations; every resident of this state has his child entitled to the same treatment under the school feeding programme,” Oyetola stated.
In Osun, there is a readymade model of school feeding that works