Gulu — As learners across the country report to schools for their third term, parents in rural areas within Gulu District are reluctant to make contribution for the compulsory school feeding programme for their primary school going children.
In March this year, Gulu District local government passed a resolution to compel parents to each contribute beans and maize flour to schools to cater for their pupils’ breakfast and lunch as part of the government efforts to keep pupils in schools.
The move followed last year’s strategic review by National Planning Authority report on Uganda’s Sustainable Development Goal Two, which showed that about seven children in every 10 schools do not get a meal while at school.
However, some parents in Gulu District after making contribution for the past two terms, say the initiative is not yielding fruit, arguing that teachers and school authorities are the ones benefiting from the initiative.
The parents also argue that it is costly to contribute towards the school feeding programme given their humble background.
For example, in most of the 55 government-aided schools in Gulu, a parent is required to contribute 5 kilogrammes of beans and another 10 kilogrammes of maize flour for each of their children.
This implies that a parent with seven children at school ends up contributing 70 kilogrammes of flour and 35 kilogrammes of beans.
Ms Bosco Oryema, one of the parents, whose child studies at Paibona Primary School in Paibona Sub-county, described the initiative as a fruitless effort that will result in waste of resources.
Mr Oryema said since the introduction of the school feeding programme, teachers have been selling the food items contributed by parents.
“Before the term ends, you find that stores where food items that were contributed by parents are kept empty. If you investigate, you will find that the food stuff were stolen by teachers. This is waste of resources,” Ms Oryema claimed.
He added that no clear explanations are being offered to parents by the school administration on whether the food has been either consumed by children or teachers.
Another parent, who is also opposed to the programme, Ms Grace Acaa, said since the introduction of the programme, her children’s performance has greatly declined.
“My children no longer concentrate on their studies. They only think of food but not about their performance at the end of the term,” Acaa noted.
She also noted that it is expensive to provide food for the children both at school and home while also paying the school fees.
However, Mr Julius Odongkara, a retired teacher, disagreed with parents, saying from experience, it is very difficult to teach a child on an empty stomach.
“A pupil who has not eaten anything cannot concentrate during class hours. They normally either doze-off or fail to grab anything during lessons unlike a child who has eaten food. If a child has eaten something, it also make teachers work easy,” he said.
Mr Odongkara encouraged parents to embrace the initiative wholeheartedly for the good of their children.
Mr Bernard Ivan Okello, the chairperson of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) at Oguru Primary School, who supported the compulsory lunch for pupils, said it impacts positively on performance of pupils.
He dismissed allegations that school authorities and teachers are benefiting from the food contributed by parents, arguing that introduction of lunch in most of the schools has reduced absenteeism among pupils.
“For example in Oguru Primary School, the number of pupils has greatly improved unlike before when the midday meal was introduced. In the previous year, the population of the pupils was only 680 but now we have 726. This is because the school provides for them lunch,” Mr Okello noted.
The Woman Councillor for Paibona Sub-county, Ms Dorothy Lamwaka, urged parents to embrace the programme and do anything within their means to ensure that lunch is provided for their children.
“Poverty should not be an excuse for parents not to provide food for their children. Children need to eat frequently so that their brain grow well. Why should you punish your own child?” she asked.
Mr Caesar Akena, the district education officer (DEO), noted that pupils are facing a lot of challenges in the afternoon due to failure by parents to provide lunch.
Mr Akena noted that learning in most schools in Gulu District stops in the morning hours.
He explained that a significant number of pupils do not have lunch, forcing them to dose-off, which reduces their level of concentration.
Mr Akena pointed out that the current poor performance being experienced is directly as a result of failure of pupils to have something to eat during lunch break.
Mr Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Gulu District chairperson, a trained teacher, noted that majority of children who go without eating during lunch time are facing difficult time at school because they study on an empty stomach.
Currently, only 19 of the 55 government-aided schools in Gulu district are offering compulsory meals which are majorly posho and beans to its learners.
Statistics provided by the Gulu District Education Department indicate that out of more than 40,000 pupils enrolled in 55 government aided primary schools, only 15 per cent are able to come to school with packed lunch.
In 2015, the Ministry of Education launched the guidelines for school feeding programme. The guidelines state that feeding and nutrition education programs are necessary in schools since they have been known to promote and improve physiological growth, school enrollment, learning and overall cognition.
Other benefits include improved community participation, classroom concentration, and children’s in-class performance.
Issues facing education
Three in four children aged 6-16 (74 per cent) are currently primary school pupils, most in government schools (54 per cent). One in ten of this age group are not attending any school.
The most referenced school associated problem is distance, cited by one in five parents (19 per cent) followed by excessive school contributions (12 per cent).
However, more parents (25 per cent) reference teaching issues than any other, when asked about the main problem affecting their child or children’s schooling: one in ten (11 per cent) mention a shortage of teachers and a similar number (9 per cent) cite the poor standard of teaching. A further one in twenty (5 per cent) mention teacher absenteeism.
Similarly, shortages of facilities and teaching supplies are named by many (24 per cent): inadequate books and teaching tools (9 per cent), inadequate space (8 per cent), and a lack of water and/or electricity (7 per cent).
Those in urban areas are slightly more likely to cite school contributions (14 per cent) and space (10 per cent) as problems, and less likely to cite a shortage of teachers (6 per cent), but distance is the top problem in both urban (18 per cent) and rural (20 per cent) areas (not shown in charts). This is according to 2017 Sauti wa Wananchi survey by Twaweza.
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Publish date : 2018-09-19 10:44:20