Learners left in the dark over resumption of school nutrition programme, say civil society groups

Learners left in the dark over resumption of school nutrition programme, say civil society groupsMpumalanga School Nutrition Programme under scrutiny. File Photo

Civil society says the government places the responsibility on learners and their families as it struggles to reinstate the school nutrition programme.

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The plan to reintroduce the school nutrition scheme still leaves too much to learners, say civil society organisations. Section 27 and Equal Education are monitoring the Department of Basic Education’s progress in reinstituting the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and they say it still falls short.

This week, the two organisations along with the governing bodies of two Limpopo schools wrote to Minister Angie Motshekga. They were responding to the department’s 7 August progress report.  While the report was more coherent than previous versions, the organisations say it lacks information on how the department is going to address obstacles preventing learners from accessing meals.

“The latest report claims that the main problem with the rollout of the NSNP is that learners are not collecting meals or food parcels because of the recent temporary closure of schools, fears around physical distancing and the lack of scholar transport. The report does not, however, offer any plans to address these challenges,” the groups say in a joint statement.

Responsibility on learners

The civil society organisations say the department and the provincial education departments (PEDs) have failed to communicate with learners that they can collect meals and how to do so. Instead, the report places the responsibility on learner and their families to implement the nutrition scheme. In addition, schools have not communicated safety protocols to learners who want to collect their daily meals.

“It is unacceptable that learners and families may be unaware that they can fetch the school meals they are entitled to because of poor communication from education departments, or because they might not have transport to school,” the statement says.

Earlier, the department and its provincial offices failed to meet a July 31 deadline set by a court to provide feedback on the scheme. The department suspended the NSNP when schools closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown. A North Gauteng High Court judge ordered its resumption after Section 27, Equal Education and the governing bodies approached a court.

Questionable monitoring data

The joint statement also questions the data in the department’s report. Some schools in Eastern Cape are violating the court order by only providing meals to grade 12 learners. For Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, the report only shows the number of meals available, rather than the actual meals collected. In KwaZulu-Natal, the civil society organisations say they have heard reports of learners not receiving food.

“This links to another problem that we have with the report—that the DBE and the PEDs do not clarify what tools are used to collect their data, or what the findings are from their [National School Nutrition Programme] monitoring visits,” says the statement.

Among the loose-ends the organisations have requested Motshekga to tie up include scholar transport for learners who need to travel to school to collect their meals and proper distancing protocols even for the grades who have not yet returned to school.

Section 27, Equal Education and the school governing bodies say that they will continue monitor the delivery of food with schools throughout the country. –Health-e News