The primary and mass education ministry is going to extend the ongoing schoolchildren-feeding programme for six more months from January to June in the new year of 2021.
The incumbent programme was supposed to end in December this year.
According to the ministry official, the extension comes as the much-talked about new school meal project might delay getting approval from the Planning Commission and Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) in the wake of some controversies.
The latest extension, which is 4th in kind, will not incur any additional cost on the part of the government. The ministry will spend on the feeding project from its previous fund.
Ruhul Amin Khan, project director of the ongoing school-feeding programme, told The Business Standard they sent biscuits to students' residences even amid the coronavirus pandemic to keep the children healthy.
"The ministry thinks that the project should be expanded for an uninterrupted distribution of food among schoolchildren," he said.
Wishing anonymity, an official of the ministry concerned told this correspondent that the authorities failed to kick off the new school meal scheme from January 2021 as the Planning Commission sent the proposal regarding the meal plan back to the education ministry for recasting.
"The primary and mass education ministry is likely to forward its revised project proposal to the Planning Commission in January next year for approval and then it will be sent to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) for a further consent."
That means it might take four to five months more to get final approval, he added.
Sources in the ministry said beginning in 2010, the incumbent feeding project continued till July 2014 and was extended thrice earlier.
The first extension got underway from July 2014 to December 2014, second from January 2015 to June 2017 and third from July 2017 to December 2020.
The 4th of its kind is likely to start in January and continue till June in the new year of 2021.
The first school-feeding programme primarily began in 2002 as an emergency response to the needs of schoolchildren among flood-affected families in Jashore district as part of measures towards bringing the kids back to school.
The government moved to widely bring 26.28 lakh school kids from 86 upazilas under the feeding initiative with the financial assistance from World Food Programme in 2010.
Now 31.60 lakh children from 15,788 primary schools in 104 upazilas receive the benefit.
The primary and mass education ministry spent Tk4,991 crore on the feeding from 2010 to date.
Children are given cooked meals only in 14 upazilas while vitamin-enriched biscuits weighing 75 grams with 300 calories are served in other upazilas assisted by the World Food Programme.
As cooked meals have proved more effective than biscuits, the government mulls over providing meals to 1.4 crore students in all 66,000 government primary schools by 2023, the ministry sources said.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations believes that the countries across the world need to take initiatives to have healthy diets accessible to everyone.
Nutrition, it notes, should be ensured right at the school level.
Of 52 lower middle-income countries, 34 including Bangladesh have government-supervised school-feeding programmes or are transitioning from relying on external support to making internal arrangements.
FAO says good nutrition and education help children become "nutritionally literate" and they can educate their families about the value of nutritious food.
According to the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University, 40% of school-aged (6-12 years) children still suffer from malnutrition.
Professor Md Akhtaruzzaman at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science under Dhaka University told The Business Standard that a child aged between six and eight years needs 1,600 calories, seven and nine 1,950 calories and nine and 11 2,200 calories per day.
It may be recalled that the cabinet on 19 August last year approved the National School Meal Policy 2019.
How school meals are distributed now
Cooks and class teachers serve food to the schoolchildren. If there are two shifts in schools, food are served twice – one around 11:45am at the end of first shift and another at 1:30pm during tiffin period.
In the case of a single shift, school meals are served once during the tiffin break.
The school feeding project engages local community, especially women, to cook food as well as monitor hygiene requirements and supply vegetables needed for cooking khichuri.
A committee comprised of teachers, guardians, school managing committee members and representatives from NGO monitors the project.