School meals reduce student dropout rate

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DHAKA, Sept 28, 2019 (BSS) – In Bamna upazila of Barguna district, school
meals have made a significant contribution to reducing the dropout rate of
students encouraging them to stay in schools.

Suman Hossain, son of Altaf Hossain of Chhoto Bhai Jora village under
Doawatola union in Bamna upazila, was eating school meal at noon. “I enjoy a
lot when I eat hotchpotch (Khichuri) mixed with different varieties of
vegetable… It is delicious and I come to school everyday for having
hotchpotch,” he said. This is how many children of poor family of Chhoto Bhai
Jora village narrated their enjoyment of having mid-day meal at school.

Laki Akhtar, wife of Md Sohel of Chhoto Bhai Jora village, said, “Due to
financial hardship, we cannot provide adequate amount of foods to our
children. I am mother of two children. My child named Sohel is student of
class three and he does not want to miss his class because of the mid-day
school meal.”

“Really school meal is helping us a lot… I am happy because my child is
having nutritious foods as it is cooked with fresh vegetables,” she added.

Sherina Akther, assistant director of Shushilan, one of the implementation
organizations of School Feeding Programme in Bamna upazila, said school
feeding programme has made a significant contribution to reduce drop-out rate
in Bamna upazila.

“If we compare other upazilas of Barguna district, where school meal
programme is not introduced, student drop-out in these upazilas is higher
than Bamna upazila,” she added.

Student drop-out rate in Bamna upazila at primary level school is only
1.02 percent while an average drop-out rate in other upazilas is 7.8 percent,
Sherina Akther added.

World Food Programme (WFP) funded school feeding programme has
supplemented the efforts of the government to cut student drop-out rate, she
said, adding the WFP and local NGO Shushilan are implementing a project under
which children of relatively poverty-stricken Bamna upazila are getting meals
in their classes.

Because of poverty, many guardians in rural Bangladesh cannot arrange a
moderate food for their children, KM Enamul Hoque, deputy director of
Campaign for Popular Education, said adding it becomes difficult for kids
with empty and half-empty stomachs to pay attention in class and eventually
they lose interest in school.

In 2013, the school feeding programme was introduced in Bamna upazila of
Barguna district and in Islampur upazila of Jamalpur district while it was
introduced in Lama upazila in Barguna district in 2018. These two upazilas
were selected as pilot project keeping in mind the poverty in the areas.

The goals of the project were to increase school enrolment and
attendance, reduce repetition and dropout rates and improve attention and
learning capacity of students by reducing hunger.

On August 19, this year, the government has approved the draft of the
National School Meal Policy, 2019 setting a target to bring students of all
government primary schools under universal midday meal coverage by 2023.

The midday meal would have to meet 30 percent calories and 50 percent
micronutrient of the primary school students aged 3 to 12 years, the Primary
and Mass Education Ministry sources said.

As many as 1.40 crore students of 66,000 government primary schools
across the country will be provided with midday meals by 2023 and it will
require Taka 2,835 crore per year for giving fortified biscuits to the
students, Taka 5,560 crore for giving cooked foods five days in a week and
biscuits in one day and Taka 7,475 crore to give egg, banana and bread, they
added.

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