70% pupils go hungry at school, says report   

Pupils of St Mary’s  Kiryowa Primary School in Buikwe District being served porridge at break time on April 11, 2019.PHOTO/DENIS EDEMA

What you need to know:

  • Government in Financial Year 1996/1997 introduced the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme, increasing enrollment and literacy rates to date. Despite this achievement, there is poor performance, especially in government-aided schools due  to absence of school feeding mechanism.

At least 70 per cent of primary school children are studying hungry because the school feeding programme continues to be ignored or neglected by government, according to a collaborative research conducted by three organisations.

The research was carried out by Uganda Debt Network (UDN), Save the Children International-Uganda (SCIU) and National Children’s Authority (NCA) . The finding corroborates a similar previous government report by the Ministry of Education.

To deal with the school feeding programme, which the researchers described as the “elephant in the room”, the report recommends that government takes over school feeding through partnerships and policy mix rather than leaving the initiative to parents or schools, who cannot afford to provide porridge at a regular basis.

The report titled: “Challenges and Prospects for Financing School feeding under Universal Primary Education (UPE) Programme in Uganda” asks government to provide funding for school gardening in order to boost food security in schools.  The researchers say the initial funding for schools to open up gardens should be picked from the central and local government budgets.

Presenting the collaborative research report at the weekend, Mr Julius Kapwepwe Mishambi, a development aid policy specialist, said the initial support should directly be through designated budget lines or even from already funded programmes such as Operation Wealth Creation (OWC).
“This funding and programming strategy would enable schools to be targeted along in providing agricultural inputs, without any additional recourse to the sectoral and overall governments’ resource envelope,” Mr Kapwepwe said.

He added: “Further the school gardens would enable schools teach agriculture for life skill lessons rather than punishment, so that there is progressive attitude and mindset change towards farming as a skill and a business prospect to both learners and teachers, during school or later out of school.”

In one of the Cabinet memo, the Ministry of Education said hunger is one of the main reasons children perform poorly in UPE schools.
The memo further indicated that hungry children have poor concentration and mental abilities. This is in addition to causing absenteeism, bad behaviour, poor health and ultimately dropping out of school. 
Studies by National Planning Authority (NPA), corroborated by the aforementioned research shows that there are up to eight million children who attend school in Uganda. However, the largest proportion go hungry with only 33 per cent of the children receiving meals at school. This, according to the NPA report, has implications on cognitive development, school performance and achievement.

Findings of another report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) indicate that at least seven of 10 primary school learners attend classes while hungry, with the most affected being the rural-based children. The lucky ones to have regular meals at schools are normally those whose parents are able to make some financial contributions towards the feeding.

Corroborating a World Country Bank report, the collaborative research paper commissioned at the weekend indicates that irregular student attendance has been partly attributed to lack of midday meals at school as well as low teacher attendance, low societal appreciation of the long-term benefits of schooling.

The findings also relate to a survey done by Twaweza, a non governmental organisation, between May and June to establish the effects of Covid-19 on people’s livelihoods. 
The report said 41 per cent of people across the country said their households ran out of food once or more in April, and a similar number (41 per cent) reported having not eaten due to lack of money or other resources.

Ministry of Education weighs in
According to the Assistant Commissioner in-charge of Primary Education, Mr Tony Mukasa, government recognises that feeding is an essential component of a child-friendly school as it improves physiological growth, school enrolment, learning and cognition.

Mr Mukasa said this is why in 2013, government designed the school feeding and nutrition guidelines to improve child health, nutrition and educational performance and in April 2018, the Minister of Education, Ms Janet Kataha Museveni, launched the national school feeding mobilisation campaign for parents and leaders at all levels to ensure all children get a meal while at school.

Despite all these efforts the problem of pupils studying on empty stomach remains an issue.
“I must tell you that school feeding is one item that we continue to grapple with on a daily basis,” Mr Mukasa said yesterday, adding: “We must continue to have this discussion until we solve this problem or else we will be risking the future of our kids yet their feeding both at school and home is a debt that we must clear.”

Under the school feeding and nutrition guidelines, governing bodies for each school are mandated to determine the amount of cash to be contributed by parents to facilitate the programme in agreement with the Education Act.
Home-packed meals is government’s recommended method, especially for rural schools which account for 80 per cent of the estimated 7.9 million learners in primary education.