I have followed the campaign by the Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, as she traverses the country talking to schools, local government and community leaders on the important matter of providing school children with meals.
Learners who are not provided with meals while at school are unfortunate.
They have irresponsible parents. It reminds me of the common saying that “common sense is not common”. Why would any parent think that their child would do well at school when they are hungry? Don’t they mind how well their kids do in school?
Way back in the 1970s while I was in primary school, the issue of feeding school children was the responsibility of parents pure and simple. I do not remember any campaign or effort by government to tell parents the obvious that children, just like adults, need to feed in order to function.
I only remember local chiefs inspecting of homes to find out if some parents were keeping children away from school, or if they did not have pit-latrines - this had repercussions for the parents. These were school fees paying days before Universal Primary Education was introduced. Children carried a packed meal to school, in Runyankore known as (Entanda).
Nearly four decades later, Uganda has done better on all indices of development. Life expectancy has leaped from 40 to 63 years, under five mortality reduced to 64/1,000 live births and infant mortality rate is now at 43/1000 live births. For the health sector, tremendous achievements have been realised in immunisation coverage rates at 80 per cent and general literacy rates have improved substantially.
Better quality of life and improved homesteads are noticeable as you travel across Uganda. There used to be a sea of grass-thatched houses in my village in Kazo, Kiruhura District in the 70s, but today, I see versatile roofing and improved farms with increased yields in dairy milk and food crops. You even notice personal vehicles parked at these homes. Despite these visible improved quality of life signs, we have some parents sending their children to school without a meal!
The Education minister told a press briefing that the situation was even worse. Some parents send their children to school before they have had any meal at home! In other words, they go to school on an empty stomach. This is a terrible indictment on some of the parents of today.
I am reminded of Charles Dickens tale of two cities during the French Revolution: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”
How can the parents of the analogue 1970s/80s be better than the parents of digital 2018? What went wrong? The argument that some parents are very poor does not hold; any homestead that has a piece of land should surely be self-sufficient as far as home meals are concerned.
Uganda is a very fertile country The problem is pathetic irresponsibility. How come the men are found drinking during day? Ms Museveni told the press that on average, men in some areas she visited, spend Shs1,000 a day on booze. Clearly, it is not a poverty issue; it is willful neglect and failure to provide for their families.
I have noticed something peculiar with Uganda. Society and indeed government is very tolerant to their own detriment! We need to take a stand on some issues, especially affecting children. Crack the whip on irresponsible parents. What do the local leaders of today do? Local governments, teachers and the clergy, what are their primary responsibilities if it does not include welfare of school children? What do all the officials in the Education ministry do?
At the media briefing, I asked if the technical people in ministry of Education had done research to find out why and what category of parents send their children to school without food. They haven’t done that.
The minister said even good things may come with some negative consequences – explaining that UPE meant that all children, including those from the most vulnerable families, who would not have attended school, could now go and study.
Mr Katungi is the communications & media relations manager, Uganda Media Centre.