Abdur Rahman does not want to miss school for a single day. Playing with his friends and taking meals together during tiffin period are all he enjoys a lot.
“Eating with friends is fun. I love to go to school,” said the class-V student of Ruhita Government Primary School in Bamna upazila of Barguna.
Rahman is not the only student who has such a feeling. Almost all the students of the institution said school has become their favourite place since the meal programme began there.
Funded by the World Food Programme since 2013, this is a pilot project implemented by Local NGO Shushilan and supervised by teachers and locals of the poverty-stricken area.
Because of poverty, many guardians in rural Bangladesh cannot arrange a moderate food for their children. It becomes difficult for kids with empty and half-empty stomachs to pay attention in class and eventually they lose interest in school.
Under the pilot project, students get khichuri prepared with micronutrient fortified rice, lentil and vegetables sourced from local women growers to meet the need for nutrition.
Bamna of Barguna and Islampur upazila of Jamalpur district were picked up for the pilot project keeping in mind the poverty in the areas.
The goals of the project were to increase school enrolment and attendance, reduce repetition and dropout rates and improve attention and learning capacity of students by reducing hunger.
“Providing hot meal has proved to be really a good step to ensure attendance,” said Ibrahim Khalil, head teacher of the school.
“Students are more attentive now as they do not have to remain hungry in class,” he said recently.
Ibrahim said the attendance rate was 72 percent in 2013, and now it has risen to 92 percent. “None dropped out from my school last year.”
KM Enamul Hoque, deputy director of Campaign for Popular Education, said, “School meal is a good approach to combating micronutrient deficiency. Having meals at school must be a good attraction for the children.”
HOW IT WORKS
Students get meals cooked at the school.
Cooks and class teachers serve the food twice if there are two shifts — one around 11:45am at the end of first shift and another at 1:30pm during the tiffin period. In case of single shift, school meal is served once in tiffin period.
The project engages the local community, especially women, who cook food as well as monitor hygiene and supply vegetables needed for cooking khichuri.
A committee comprised of teachers, guardians, school managing committee members and representatives from NGO monitors the project.
Under the project, WFP is also financing salary of cooks — one for every 60 students.
Maksuda Khanom, a cook at Ruhita Government Primary School, said they start preparations for cooking khichuri for students at a kitchen on the school premises at 7:00am daily.
During a visit to the school on June 26, this correspondent found a clean kitchen.
“We always keep the kitchen neat and clean. They are our children. Their health is our first priority,” she added.
A son of Maksuda studies at the school.
Students receive vegetable khichuri on four days, khichuri with egg one day and fortified biscuits on Thursday, when it’s only half-day school.
WFP officials said students receive around 535 kilocalories from vegetable khichuri, around 640 kilocalories from khichuri with egg and about 340 from fortified biscuits.
“Because of the school meal programme, the attendance rate has increased and dropout rate decreased significantly at all 68 primary schools in Bamna where cooked food is served,” Mofazzal Hossain, primary education officer of Bamna, told The Daily Star.
The overall attendance rate in the upazila was 87 percent in 2013 and it increased to 96 percent last year. And the dropout rate came down to 1 percent last year, said Monirul Islam, project coordinator of Shushilan.
Abul Kalam Azad, vice president of Ruhita school management committee, said guardians and other locals now frequently visit the school to monitor the meal programme.
As part of the project, 30 to 40 designated female growers provide vegetables for the meal.
Rameda, one of the growers, said she earns about Tk 1,200 per month supplying vegetables to the school.
PROJECT TO EXPAND
Taking lesson from the pilot project, the government plans to expand the cooked meal programme to 16 upazilas of 15 districts from September, said Primary and Mass Education Secretary Akram-Al-Hossain.
Over 4.10 lakh students of 2,100 primary schools will be benefited from the programme. These meals would be provided to students as part of the government-run School Feeding Programme, he said.
Project officials said they will provide khichuri on three days and fortified biscuits on other days for ensuring variety of foods.
Currently, the government provides fortified biscuits to students of primary schools in 104 upazila.
“We have a plan to provide cooked meals for all students in future,” Akram-Al-Hossain added.
Education officials, however, said there are some challenges for introducing the meal programme across the country. Each school would need separate kitchen and storage capacity.
“Appointing cook for each school will be another issue,” said an official.
Ruhul Amin Khan, project coordinator of School Feeding Programme, said they are aware of the challenges. “We will sit with NGOs to get a solution.”