- Daily calorie requirement for children
- 6-8 years of age: 1,600 calories
- 7-9 years: 1,950 calories
- 9-11 years: 2,200 calories
- 40% of school-aged (6-12 years) children suffer from malnutrition.
- The first school-feeding programme began in 2002 in Jashore district
- The initiative was expanded in 2010
- Since the, the govt has spent Tk4,991crore on delivering school meals
A suspension of school-feeding programme is threatening to increase malnutrition and the dropout rate among more than 31 lakh students in impoverished areas across the country until the finance ministry releases the fund for midday meals.
Neither have children of more than 15,000 primary schools been getting cooked meals nor vitamin-enriched biscuits, which they used to get under the programme, for the last two months.
"A good number of students skip breakfast; many even go without lunch at home. Food is what brings them to school," said Rahima Khanam, acting head teacher of Char Kukri Mukri Government Primary School in Char Fasson upazila under Bhola district.
The school has 226 students and most of them are from a very poor background. They had come to school with hunger to get biscuits before the Covid-19 broke out.
During the pandemic, teachers delivered biscuits to students' homes until the fund ran out. The primary and mass education ministry is yet to get money from the finance ministry to continue the programme extended for the fifth time from July to December this year.
Char Kukri teachers fear that they may lose many students as the school is going to reopen on 12 September like other educational institutions on government instructions after 18 months.
Children from 103 other poor upazilas are also facing a bleak future without food support.
The mass education ministry carries out the feeding project supported by the World Food Programme with cooked meals in 14 upazilas. Students in the remaining upazilas get biscuits weighing 75 grams of 300 calories.
Golam Hasibul Alam, secretary of the mass education ministry, said it was yet to begin activities after the time extension for a lack of funds. "Hopefully, we will soon start meal distribution at schools," he said.
Meanwhile, education experts worry over a rise in the dropout rate amid the suspension of the feeding programme.
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Manzoor Ahmed told TBS that educationists had recommended forming upazila-level committees and making lists of students who were at a high risk of dropping out but to no avail.
"I have been saying that the government should provide school meals to all students to prevent dropout. It needs to provide financial help as well to families of poor students so they do not discontinue children's education."
According to the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University, 40% of school-aged (6-12 years) children suffer from malnutrition.
Professor Md Akhtaruzzaman, of the institute, said a child aged between six and eight years needs 1,600 calories, between seven and nine years 1,950 calories and between nine and 11 years 2,200 calories per day.
The first school-feeding programme began in 2002 as an emergency response to the needs of school children among flood-affected families in Jashore district.
The government expanded the initiative with financial assistance from the World Food Programme in 2010. Since then, the primary and mass education ministry spent Tk4,991 crore on delivering school meals.