School nutrition programme deserves praise

COMMENT
We fail to praise South Africa’s national school nutrition Programme’s success in producing graduates for South Africa, because we dwell too much on failures.

Let us stop the culture of seeing the negative in everything and applaud when tasks are executed successfully.

For the past 15 years, the nutrition programme has enhanced the learning capacity of schoolchildren by providing one healthy meal a day at low-income schools.

More than half the learners at public schools in the country are from low-income families. Unable to afford lunch boxes, the majority of them would go to school empty-handed and go hungry during lunch breaks.

Nothing can distract a learner in a classroom as easily as hunger and starvation.

I don’t care how much you enjoy being inside school premises, once you are hungry you are likely to lose concentration and become drowsy, and that’s a barrier between you and your learning process.

This was the story of poverty and hunger in our nation’s schools, as witnessed every day by teachers, principals and staff.

Growing up in the villages of the former Transkei in the Eastern Cape, I saw my peers bunking school because they had no food to eat before they went to school. So they would pretend to their parents that they attended classes when in actual fact they would escape. Others would not even come to school.

But because learners can now look forward to a meal at school, this meant punctuality, regular school attendance, concentration and the general improvement in the well-being of learners.

According to the department of basic education’s website, “The national school nutrition programme aims to provide meals to the most needy learners. Good food provides energy for the brain. The meals which are provided at schools are, therefore, intended to give energy for mental and physical activities for the body and brain to function and to make the learners alert and receptive during lessons.”

So, when I say the programme has produced graduates, I am referring to all those learners from grade 1 to grade 12 who benefited when their parents could not give them pocket money, up to the point when they enrolled in universities. In fact, I am one of them.

I had no lunch box or pocket money at school, so I relied on the nutrition programme during all my years of high school. I believe the programme is a milestone on how the department of education fulfils the mandate of providing a good learning environment for all.

In the programme, “while learners are being provided with nutritious meals, they are also taught to establish and maintain good eating habits for life. Nutrition education also provides educators with resource materials to support curriculum and to make every school a healthy school”, according to the department’s website. It adds: “Schools are also encouraged to establish food gardens from which they obtain fresh produce (vegetables/fruit) to supplement the menu. Learners, teachers and parents are provided with skills to grow their own food, contributing towards long-term household food security. The gardens are also used as a teaching and learning resource and to beautify the environment.”

Such a programme creates a healthy and productive learning environment for schoolchildren.

The nutrition programme is part of the government’s broader poverty alleviation drive and zooms in on schools in needy communities.

Through the programme, the department aims to achieve three objectives: to contribute to enhanced learning capacity through school feeding programmes; to promote and support food production and improve food security in school communities; and to strengthen nutrition education in schools and communities.

I can boldly say: all the objectives were effectively achieved.

The nutrition programme was introduced in 1994 by the government as part of the Reconstruction and Development Programme of the newly founded democratic South Africa.

At first the programme only covered learners in primary schools, but it was soon found that there was a need to extend the programme to secondary schools. In October 2008, the minister of finance announced a budget for the inclusion of secondary schools in the programme.

Success stories do exist and maybe it’s time we share them more often.

Siwaphiwe Myataza is a political science graduate from the University of the Western Cape and works as a content developer at the Media and Writers Firm

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