Following the Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) recommendations on the school-feeding programme in 16 schools last year, the education ministry has begun the management of an action plan.

The report stated that students in boarding schools are not eating the right or good food and observed lack of standard dietary requirement prescribed for students, lacked systematic monitoring system and implementation of an effective mechanism for monitoring nutritional status, among others.

The report also stated that the food prepared in visited schools was also found unpalatable and unappetising, discouraging students to eat the right portion resulting in fewer intakes of nutrients.

However, an official from the nutrition and health division said actions are being taken and they are also working on a different action plan like standard dietary requirement for school children.

The action includes dietary assessment, which would identify the dietary composition of the actual school meals, estimate the average quantity of food consumed and average nutrient intake, which would be the benchmark to propose for stipend revision.

“Integrated approach of school health, school agriculture and school feeding would be also carried out to contribute to improving health and nutritional status,” an official said. “Currently the food basket is being reviewed so that diversified diet with inclusion of more vegetables and meat protein meets the nutrition standard and requirements.”

The division is also developing standard operating procedure to streamline regular monitoring. Questionnaire has been developed for monitoring.

The division has completed the monitoring in Punakha and Wangdue.

The report also recommended a need for strong quality control system in school feeding management.

The audit found that schools did not check the quality of food items when receiving deliveries from the Food Corporation of Bhutan, although memorandum of understanding (MoU) with FCB clearly stipulates schools to inspect commodities for damages and infestations.

An official said an MoU would be signed with the BAFRA this year. The MoU will ensure food commodities to school are of good qualities and quantity. RAA report had recommended that the school education department should institute a strong quality control system in school feeding by involving BAFRA as an independent assessor.

Meanwhile, in an effort to combat incident of peripheral neuropathy, the division had prescribed the inclusion of soya chunks in the menu. However, most students found it unpalatable. Boiled rice was introduced as it also contains high thiamine, which prevents peripheral neuropathy. Soya chunks were excluded from the menu.

The division is still looking to re-introduce soya chunk in  the menu.

There are 110 feeding schools in the country. The government spends Nu 1,000 a student a month on meals for all boarding schools.

Yangchen C Rinzin