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How to ensure successful implementation of school feeding programme — Experts

The recent announcement on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu reintroducing a school feeding programme in Nigeria’s basic education to address the challenges of out-of-school children and…

The recent announcement on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu reintroducing a school feeding programme in Nigeria’s basic education to address the challenges of out-of-school children and learning crisis in the country has been received in some quarters as a cheering one.  

The school feeding programme, no doubt, is one of the many policies adopted in the past to encourage pupils to attend school, remain and complete schooling.

The project requires feeding pupils in primary schools with one balanced-diet meal in a right proportion to boost mental alertness and physical fitness and in return enhance pupils’ enrolment in schools when fully implemented.

Nigeria has been battling to address the challenge of out-of-school children for some years now after the revelation that it ranked among the top countries with the highest rate.

With so many conflicting figures ranging from 10 to 20 million out-of-school children in the country in recent times, it is difficult to peg the number to a specific number.

Nigeria adopted the school feeding programme in 2005 as a complementary initiative to other educational programmes of UNICEF which focus on the promotion of access, enrolment and retention of children in schools.

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According to a UNICEF report, the programme is expected to improve the nutritional status of school children, as well as increase their enrolment, retention and completion rate in primary schools, and therefore contribute to Nigeria’s Universal Basic Education Programme.

Recall that the programme was initially launched by Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and kicked off at Kuje, an Abuja suburb, by the Federal Ministry of Education during its pilot phase, which was expected to benefit 2.5 million pupils in 12 different states of the federation.

The programme failed after kicking off successfully and, ex-President Muhammadu Buhari’s government also brought back the programme, which made more impact than the first one but was also later suspended

Why school feeding programme failed previously

After the programme had kicked off, there were testimonies on the impact made as the number of enrolments increased in many of the schools where it was implemented.

Despite its impact in increasing the number of school enrolment in schools, it was also not devoid of challenges, which eventually led to its suspension by the previous government.

Daily Trust gathered that the first initiative led by Obasanjo failed because states failed to show enthusiasm in adopting the programme that was to be carried out at the state and local government levels to increase enrolment of pupils in school.

A source at the Federal Ministry of Education said the programme was shut down by the states that failed to put down their counterparts while the federal part is being kept in the bank and as a result, nothing could be done and the federal government could not compel them to do otherwise.

The second shoot at the programme by Buhari was far more successful as many states bought the idea and implemented it.

The federal government then announced that it is feeding almost 10million pupils with 6million of eggs, 594 cows weekly.

States like Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Osun, Zamfara, Sokoto, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Niger, among others implemented the programme and testified that though it was capital intensive, it boosted enrolment in primary schools and some have surged and faced a new challenge of space.

However, the programme was later suspended after discovery of corruption, which marred the process from the federal to state level.

The programme, which was initially domiciled at the Office of the Vice President was later moved to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs where it was coordinated until its suspension.

After the discovery of the alleged corruption act in the first phase of the process, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais, said the programme was suspended in some states because of reports of poor-quality food, insufficient and irregular supply of food, as well as late disbursement of funds by the government in states.

It was also noted that there was circumvention of the process of payment of vendors engaged in feeding pupils in some states.

Also, a report has it that contractors complained that the pupils were increasing daily in most of the schools, thus complicating the feeding process.

Daily Trust also gathered that because of the capital intensive of the programme, many states could not sustain it and decided to back out.

However, the second phase was also faced with alleged corruption after the programme was said to continue at home during closure of schools.

Recall that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (1CPC) had reported that N2.67 billion meant for school feeding of the 104 Unity Colleges during the COVID-19 lockdown was found in individual accounts.

How to make school feeding successful – Experts

There is no doubt that the project requires huge funds but some stakeholders opined that the school feeding programme impact is enormous as it not only boosts enrolment but serves as an economy booster through entrepreneurship.

A teacher in a primary school in Abuja who does not want to be mentioned said reintroducing the school feeding programme now is apt considering the harsh reality on ground and that the government must be intentional in running it until no child is left out.

According to him, the programme came with advantages because with the feeding, the populations of the pupils will definitely increase.

“Pupils who were from poor backgrounds and couldn’t afford to eat well will be attracted with meals and such will make them look forward to coming to school and then also learn,” he said.

He however warned that the government should ensure that what is being approved as the required meal is being supplied to the pupils so that some people don’t sabotage the process and give the children something less.

“Government should ensure a strict measure is used to deal with corrupt cases and ensure that the vendors are literates that understand what is proper meal with balanced diet and nutritional meal as well as ensuring the programme is sustained,” he said.

An educationist, Michael Ojonugwa, said the benefit of school feeding is enormous as it stretches to providing nutritional meals to the pupils for healthy living to boosting enrolment and creating jobs for many people along the value chain.

“However, this is not the first time the programme is being done but it is important that federal and state governments take it seriously this time if we are truly serious in addressing the out-of-school children challenge,” he said.

He said state governments must be actively involved and be intentional about it and that more than one food vendor should be engaged to encourage competition.

“If you have more than one vendor supplying a school for instance, they will all work to outdo each other and as such prepare quality meal for the pupils”

Ojonugwa also advised that the federal government should set up a supervision team that will go round the country from time to time to ensure that  the right meal is being given to the pupils, but first, “There should be a time table and specification of food for each day.”

“Government should also make plans on providing adequate facilities in case of  overflow to accommodate the ripple effect that may have to ensure there is retention and completion of schooling,” he said.

He further said the most important one is to ensure that teaching and learning is taking place and not just feeding children and allowing them to go home and come back the next day for the next meal.

Another teacher, Sophia Emmanuel, said starting is usually not the issue but sustaining it is.

“The programme no doubt raised the number of enrolments but the moment government stopped it you couldn’t find half of the children in school anymore because the attraction was gone, so the government must find a way to ensure the programme runs for long to capture all the children that are out of school,” Sophia said.

She said it is important that food should be specified as some children mostly in rural areas are being fed with low quality meals with no meat or egg as specified by the government as part of the meal plan.

FG stands on out-of-school children

The Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman, had said during a one-day retreat on quick wins in the middle ministerial deliverables from 2023 to 2027  made the announcement on reintroducing the school feeding programme, saying the president also directed that it is removed from Ministry of Humanitarian and returned to Federal Ministry of Education by next year.

Prof. Mamman said if the learning crisis is not tackled, it will be difficult to address the challenges of out-of-school children.

He said: “I would not want to bother you with the number of out-of-school children in the country; it is an embarrassment that Nigeria is continually associated with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.

“We would be paying particular attention to this unacceptable phenomenon and in line with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s commitment, would work towards returning 15million out-of-school children back to the classrooms by the year 2027.”

“We are placing a high premium on foundational and basic education, strengthening integration of existing non-formal schools into formal education systems, scaling-up adult literacy and non-formal education interventions, increasing opportunities for girl-child education.” 

 

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