The nutrition scenario
Nutrition plays an important role in the life of a child right from day one. Without proper nutrition it is difficult for the mental and physical development of a child. The same goes with the nutrition of a student in a school. It is of utmost importance that a student must be well fed with proper diet in order to study well and to become worthy citizens.
The School Feeding Programme (SEF) under the Ministry of Education which is collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) for the past 40 years has helped increase enrolment and attendance rates, reduce the dropout rates, helped improve the short term nutritional status of school going children besides enabling generation of Bhutanese students attain education and realize their potentials.
As of 2014, there are 51,886 students benefiting from the SFP of which 33,131 students are boarders and 18,755 are day feeding students.
Following recent reports of serious nutrient deficient health problems in three schools with SFP, the government revised the monthly stipend from Nu.700 to Nu. 1000 per student in 2012, while in 2014 the revised stipend was streamlined for use in food alone. The establishment of 24 pilot Central Schools (CS) in the country by 2015 will not only double the number of students availing the SFP but the challenge will only continue to rise in the following years. As WFP is scheduled to withdraw from Bhutan by end of 2018, the SFP will need to be solely supported by the Government. In the context four years as WFP transition towards its withdrawal, the government will have to explore sustainable means to support the SFP to ensure the educational continuity and attainment of students.
A recent meeting of stakeholders involved in the school feeding discovered that an overall policy level school feeding is not mention as such in the National Poverty Reduction Strategy. The importance of school feeding is overall recognized as evidenced by the mention of school feeding in the Food and Nutrition Security Policy, National Education Policy and the Cabinet’s written instructions to strengthen the national school feeding programme, but a comprehensive school feeding policy is not yet established. As the SFP becomes national, a stable and independent funding source to ensure sustainability and quality of the programme need to be put in place at the earliest.
With the WFP schedule to phase out its support by the end of 2018 it will be a challenge for us to feed our school going children who need nutritious diet for the future well being of the nation. As we have about four years to go it may be appropriate to ponder over this issue. It is always befitting to start something pragmatic as how to feed our own students as they are the future citizens of our nation.