Basic education department can’t afford breakfast

Learners queue for a meal. (Madelene Cronje)

Learners queue for a meal. (Madelene Cronje)

Millions of hungry learners will not be offered breakfast. This decision follows a suggestion by the planning, monitoring and evaluation department that the possibility of a morning snack be investigated.

The department of basic education this week ruled out providing breakfast, saying that, although it would be ideal, it was not in a financial position to do so.

But the education department is exploring the idea with corporates.

The planning department, which compiled a report on the national school nutrition programme after evaluating its effect on learners and the effectiveness of the rollout, mooted the idea of providing a morning snack.

It suggested the idea after it was found that some schools were unable to have meals prepared by 10am and that as an intervention for short-term hunger “it is ineffective”.

The Western Cape and Gauteng are the only two provinces that are known to be providing breakfast and lunch to learners. The others provide lunch only.

More than 9.6-million learners at 21 177 schools nationally benefited from the feeding scheme in the past financial year.

The budget for the new financial year, which started on April 1, is R6.4-billion. It will cost about R2.42 a day to feed a primary school learner and R3.19 to feed a secondary school learner. At least 55 723 volunteer food handlers prepare and serve the food on a daily basis.

A national treasury grant funds the initiative, which caters for learners attending quintile one to three schools, the poorest schools. It provides nutritious meals in the hope that this will result in improved attendance and better performance at schools.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and her nine provincial counterparts discussed the planning department’s evaluation report last month.

The report is still under wraps because it has not yet been tabled at a Cabinet meeting, but some of its findings include:

  • On days when soya was on the menu, learners did not eat. The report suggested that a “more appealing” alternative be found;
  • The appropriateness of the programme can be improved by integrating it with other government departments such as social development;
  • Efficiency can be improved by developing norms and standards for staffing and resources required for implementing the feeding scheme; and
  • Sustainability can be improved by ensuring continuing commitment from government to carry on with core funding for the feeding scheme.

The education department told the Mail & Guardian that the provision of a morning snack was instead being discussed with partners.

The Tiger Brands Foundation, which has entered into a public-private partnership with the department, is offering a nutritious breakfast to 63 500 learners at 91 schools across the country.

According to the department’s annual report for the past year, it is partnered with two other breakfast programmes: Kelloggs South Africa (20 schools) and Pioneer Foods (25 schools).

“More partners in the food manufacturing industry are beginning to show interest in supporting the breakfast snack as part of their CSI [corporate social investment] offering,” said the department.

Eugene Absolom, director of the Tiger Brands Foundation, said it costs R2.46 a learner a day to provide breakfast. This cost includes project management, investment in school kitchens and a stipend paid to the volunteer food handlers who prepare and serve the breakfast.

The Tiger Brands Foundation has built 33 kitchens at schools.

Absolom said studies conducted in the Lady Frere district of the Eastern Cape showed that providing breakfast to learners had a positive effect on school attendance.

The foundation provides Jungle Oats, Ace Instant, Morvite and Mabele for breakfast, and the Gauteng and Western Cape education departments offer cereal.

The conditional grant for the feeding scheme is meant for learners attending quintile one to three schools, but the education department said 270 894 learners in 645 quintile four and five schools, the so-called wealthy schools, were also getting food. In Gauteng, 75 439 learners at 185 fee-paying schools are benefiting from the feeding scheme.

The Gauteng provincial government topped up treasury’s R712-million conditional grant for the 2017-2018 financial year with a further R316-million.

Mfanelo Ntsobi, chief director for school support in the Gauteng education department, said the majority of learners at many schools classified as quintile four and five schools were from disadvantaged communities.

“You find the children of domestic workers and cleaners attending wealthy schools. The Gauteng provincial government said there was no way that it was going to exclude these learners from the feeding scheme.”

Western Cape education department spokesperson Jessica Shelver said 478 144 of its poorest learners at 1 010 schools were provided with breakfast and lunch.

“The school feeding scheme will encourage our learners to arrive early for school and stay in school. It allows children to focus on their studies rather than their stomachs and helps to increase school enrolment and attendance.”

Commenting on learners’ dislike for soya, the basic education department said it was searching for a protein alternative. Gauteng serves soya mince stew to pupils twice a week while the Western Cape serves soya mince curry twice a week.

Ntsobi said his department had received complaints about soya and that only soya manufacturers approved by the department were allowed to supply the product.

“We are training food handlers who prepare soya to make it presentable and appealing to learners and to consider additional sources of protein for approval by the national department of education.”

Shelver said the soya produced by the Western Cape was one of the best tasting soya meals in the country.

“A decision to take soya out from the menu needs to be taken at the national level.”

Trojan Foods is an approved soya manufacturer in Gauteng. General manager Kwena Setati said it was willing to explore ways of improving the soya that is served to learners but that there were cost implications.

“You can add various other ingredients, which can make it a little bit tastier or more wholesome, for example, dehydrated vegetables.”

He was adamant that the main problem was the way soya was prepared and cooked.

“Some of the volunteer food handlers are able to cook the soya in such a way that it becomes more palatable for the learner.”

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