A young child needs proper nutrition to grow and learn well. Banning compulsory parental contributions to their children’s education has been very popular. However, the interpretation now held by many communities is that even voluntary contributions such as to school feeding programmes are now not allowed. But let us look at the impact this situation may have on the future of our children.
There has been a debate as to whether pre-primary education is important or not. Very surprisingly, even educated people argue about this theme. Others argue that children in pre-primary go to school just for playing and that there is no learning at all at this level. Is this true? Some would say yes, others would say no. The truth is that children learn through play, even though many parents see play as a waste of time. For children, play is regarded as their title occupation, their ‘work’. Children learn through play, and for this learning to occur, there are multiple contributing factors, one of the most important factors being feeding.
Various studies including the Lancet Early Childhood Series (2016) have demonstrated that children that who have a feeding program at school are happier and learn better than those that do not have it. They burst with energy when you see them playing, whether they are outdoors or indoors. In schools where children are fed, teachers can productively use all the allocated time in the daily routine, as children do not get tired and sleepy.
Even as a grown-up person, how do you feel and function when you are hungry? Can you imagine staying without food from the time you wake up and for the major part of your working day? You would probably agree that you could hardly work efficiently because of hunger. It is even worse for little children: the lack of regular meals affects them even more. The child’s brain is a key organ responsible for the learning process. The brain grows and works fast while the child is still young, especially from birth to three years of age; and one of the major factors stimulating the brain is food. Therefore, timely meals are essential for children to learn well. The question is: where does responsibility lie for providing the meals for the pupils?
In December 2015 the Government of Tanzania introduced the Fee-Free Basic Education directive. This very welcome move has led to increased enrolments in primary school given cost is no longer a barrier to accessing basic education. However, there also remains a lack of clarity largely prevailing at the school and community levels as to what fee-free actually entails, despite the clarifications that have been issued at the national level. Some say that parents should not contribute anything to their children’s education as everything should be covered by the government. Some people maintain that the government cannot do everything and for this reason, parents are still responsible for ensuring that their children study well. In reality, although the government has been punctual in disbursing capitation grants to schools — that now cover pre-primary students too — the funds are not enough to cover a feeding program as well.
As a result of various interpretations of the fee-free directive, in many places, parents’ contributions to existing feeding programmes have ceased and school feeding has been stopped in many Tanzanian schools. Keeping in mind that the reality for many children is often to leave the house to go to school early in the morning, often times without having eaten anything, and may also not eat at home again until dinner time. As such lack of school feeding program results in a long, hungry day for our children. Little children’s learning is therefore severely inhibited by lack of a nourishing meal before and during school hours.
Fursa kwa Watoto is a programme directed at improving school readiness at pre-primary level in Tanzanian governmental schools. Poor knowledge of the importance of feeding for learning, combined with the lack of clarity and consistency in interpreting the fee-free education directive at the school-level, prompted the urge to emphasise the importance of school feeding in FkW interventions, following the procedures as laid out in the respective Ministry of Education 2016 circular for implementation of fee-free education. Even though feeding is not a component of the programme, FkW teams have been concentrating their efforts around raising awareness on the importance of school feeding with pre-primary teachers, school leadership, parents, school management committees and local governmental authorities in the programme’s target areas. Results have been apparent: school management committees have sought due approvals at regional and district levels for parental support of school feeding programme, and as such, the feeding programme is more regular and continuous in many FkW schools compared to other schools. FkW schools’ parents have been making consistent efforts to ensure that more nourishing meals are provided to their children.
The message is simple. As children are under the responsibility of their parents, parents have a duty to make sure their children are well fed at home and at school.
Children are tomorrow’s manpower of the nation; let us take good care of them.
By Davis Gisuka–Children in Crossfire Tanzania
Fursa kwa Watoto (Opportunities for Children) is an initiative in Tanzania designed to improve school readiness and learning outcomes for children by building evidence on the effective and scalable provision of quality pre-primary education in line with Tanzanian policies and systems. The programme is implemented through collaboration among Children in Crossfire Tanzania, Unicef, Mathematica, CSR Group Africa, Maarifa ni Ufunguo, Tanzania Home Economics Association (TAHEA) and Aga Khan University.