Regular meals for school children

The government has successfully carried out a number of pilot projects to provide meals to students at primary schools. According to records, student drop out rates have decreased by 6.6 per cent at these educational institutions. Two types of meals were provided--dry and cooked.

The 'National School Meal Policy 2019' has recently been approved at a cabinet meeting. According to the policy, midday meals will gradually be provided to all the primary schools of the country to ensure nutrition for the children. There are 14 million students in 66,000 primary schools across the country. Implementation of the programme will begin in January 2021 and all the primary schools of the country will be included in the programme by 2023.

The government claims that 30 per cent of the calorie requirement for students at preprimary and primary schools, aged 3-12, will be met by the meals. To implement the programme, deputy director of the primary education directorate, district primary education officer, assistant deputy director of non-formal education bureau, upazila parishad chairman, upazila nirbahi officer, upazila education officer from the division, district and upazila level will be included in the process. The Chittagong Hill Tracts District Council will be involved in the provcess for the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Any programme undertaken to provide nutrition for school children is praiseworthy. Such programmes are common in neighbouring India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and have yielded good results. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen too said one cannot study while starving. Most of the students were compelled to study on half empty stomachs in poverty-striken Bengal during the British rule. Later, Pakistan emerged and finally Bangladesh, but the people have not been freed of poverty yet. According to government statistics, 22 per cent of the people still live below the poverty line meaning that 35 million people are deprived of their fundamental and human rights.

Providing lunch to students of all the schools around the country is no mean task. About Tk 80 billion will be spent in the programme assisted by FAO. The biggest question is what the the meal will comprise of and how to provide this to the huge number of students. If the whole process is managed through the government administration, there will be risk of corruption and other irregularities. The local people and guardians must be included in the programme. Mothers know best what food their children require and they were included in the experimental phase. Whether dry or cooked, the meals must be hygienic. The health department of the government should be included in the process too.

There have always been allegations of corruption or irregularities in government projects. The government must ensure that this should not be repeated in this programme. For a healthy and strong nation, nutrition must be ensured not only for the children but for all the citizens.