The government is planning to provide nutritious food to pre-primary and primary students during school hours under a countrywide programme, so that they can concentrate more on their studies.
To implement the goal, the government has prepared the draft National School Meals Policy-2019, which was shared yesterday at a workshop arranged by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education at InterContinental Dhaka.
One objective of the policy is to extend teacher-student “contact hour” in schools through addressing hunger, so that students “remain lively and learn more in an enjoyable and favourable environment.”
The government is financially capable of implementing the programme, said Planning Minister MA Mannan.
“It won't be a problem, I believe. We have the funds, experience, willingness and commitment for our children,” said the minister, speaking as chief guest.
The government and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have been implementing a school feeding programme since 2011. At present, the programme is running in 104 upazilas, according to the draft copy of the policy.
Under the programme, some 32.31 lakh pre-primary and primary students are receiving fortified biscuits (75gm per student) during each class day, it says.
Besides, students in three upazilas are getting cooked meals on a pilot basis, it adds.
Presenting the draft policy, Giasuddin Ahmed, additional secretary of primary and mass education ministry, said roughly Tk 16 would be spent on each meal.
On the other hand, Tk 8 will be needed for providing fortified biscuits to one student, he said.
“Our rough estimate shows if we want to cover all students under the school meal programme, we will need [annually] Tk 8,000 to 8,500 crore,” he said, adding fortified biscuits will require half the amount.
Minimum dietary diversity has to be maintained with providing at least four food items, including at least one from animal source, he said. The meal would ensure minimum 30 percent of each day's calorie requirement of a child.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, said, everyone, including the policymakers, has to own the policy for the programme's success.
Md Zakir Hossain, state minister for primary and mass education, said once implemented successfully, the programme would help students grow up healthy.
Citing statistics, he said dropout rate among primary students was 47.2 percent in 2005 in the country. It reduced to 18.6 percent in 2018.
Enrollment percentage was 85.2 in 2005 which increased to 97.8 last year, he said.
Michiel Meerdink, senior regional programme adviser, (regional bureau, Asia and the Pacific) of WFP, said worldwide some 370 million children receive school meals which is more than half of all schoolgoing children.
“Nutritious meals for school children have a high return on investment, as they improve children's health and productivity throughout their lives,” said Richard Ragan, WFP's country representative in Bangladesh.
Stressing his support to the initiative, Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said if concerned ministries work together, the programme will be a success.
Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing also spoke on the occasion.