The government will start providing meals to primary school students from January.
The cabinet yesterday approved the National School Meal Policy-2019 draft to that end.
Primary and Mass Education Additional Secretary Gias Uddin Ahmed said meals will be provided to all 1.4 crore students of 66,000 government primary schools in phases by 2023.
The move is designed to increase attendance and reduce the rate of dropouts, as well as to ensure that children get at least 30 percent of their daily-required calorie intake at school.
The primary and mass education ministry, however, is still in a dilemma about whether to provide hot meals or fortified biscuits as school meals.
To prepare hot meals, each school will require a kitchen as well as manpower, including a cook, said ministry officials.
While the problem with fortified biscuits is that students cannot eat them at one go. They would rather need to eat them in intervals and drink a lot of water afterwards.
“The policy usually does not fix modalities. It will be fixed in the DPP [Development project proposal],” Primary and Mass Education Secretary Akram Al-Hossain told The Daily Star yesterday evening.
He added that the government is considering different options like providing hot cooked meals, fortified biscuits or package meals consisting of an egg, bread and a banana.
“We will start providing meals to primary schools in disadvantaged and rural areas from January next year,” Gias said at briefing at the secretariat after the meeting.
He said if the government provides fortified biscuits it would require about Tk 2,830 crore annually, for cooked meals it would require Tk 5,560 crore, and for the egg, bread and banana packages Tk 7,475 crore.
“We will try to engage private entrepreneurs based on a public-private partnership at union levels to provide the school meals,” he said.
Bangladesh currently has two school feeding programmes.
Under one programme, the government gives packets of biscuits, each weighing 75 grams, to nearly 3 million children at primary schools in 104 upazilas, he said.
Under a separate pilot project that began in 2013, around 34,000 students get hot vegetable khichuri meals in three upazilas -- Bamna in Barguna, Islampur in Jamalpur, and Lama in Bandarban, Gias said.
He said that they have seen attendance rates increasing by 11 percent in the areas where cooked meals were given and by 6.6 percent where fortified biscuits were given.
Besides, dropout rates have decreased by 6 percent in schools that provided the meals.
WHAT’S IN THE POLICY?
Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam at the post-meeting briefing in the secretariat said that in an attempt to ensure minimum dietary diversity, meals would be prepared with fortified rice, vegetable oil, locally-grown fresh vegetables and, if possible, eggs, so that students get enough protein and micronutrients.
The policy also proposes the formation of a National School Meal Authority under the primary and mass education ministry, and a Food and Nutrition Research and Development Centre, he added.
The menu will be selected in consultation with the schools’ managing committees, parents and locals. The programme will be overseen by an advisory committee comprising respected locals, the policy said.
Once the policy is implemented, it will minimise students’ short-term hunger, create a more positive learning environment and allow students to better concentrate in classrooms, ministry officials said.
It also approved in principle the draft of the integrated special education policy of disabilities related to Neuro-developmental disabilities [NDD] and integrated special education policy on disabilities not related to NDD.
The government had formulated the policies aiming to curb the spreading of less qualified special education schools, the cabinet secretary said.
From now on permission from a committee led by UNOs at the upazila level and DCs at the district level would be needed before setting up a special education school, he said, adding that there would be another committee to monitor the quality of education at these institutions.
There should be at least 75 students at a school and the teacher-student ratio should be 1:5, to meet the need of special care for children, he added.
Shafiul also said the cabinet approved in principle the drafts of Mongla Port Authority Act-2019 and the Chandpur Science and Technology Act-2019.
He said the draft of the Mongla Port Authority Act-2019 proposed strict punishment for polluting rivers.
If any person throws or allows waste, oil, ash and others to be thrown from vessels into the water and/or riverbanks, they would face imprisonment for a term which may extend up to one year, a fine of Tk five lakh or both, Shafiul said.
He said that currently there was an option of a Tk 50,000 fine for pollution.
The weekly cabinet meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s Office after almost a month, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh on August 8, after completing a 20-day visit to the United Kingdom. Offices were also closed for Eid vacation and the National Mourning Day on August 15.