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The education ministry is working towards providing lunch in all schools, according to education minister Norbu Wangchuk.

He said this at the joint sitting of the parliament while deliberating the performance audit report on school feeding programme on December 6.

There are 301 schools under the school-feeding programme out of which 147 schools provide three meals a day while 154 provide lunch.

Khamdang Ramjar’s MP, Sonam Dondup Dorjee, said the education ministry is giving importance to nutrition and students which is why both day scholars and boarders, should be treated equally.

He said that many day-scholar students have to travel long distances to reach their schools and suggested that day-scholars be provided lunch in schools.

Trongsa MP Tharchen said that according to records with the education ministry, there are 204,700 students in government schools. “School feeding programme benefits about 35 percent, which is about 75,500 students.”

He said that the remaining 65 percent of students are mostly from rural areas, who have to walk long distances or come from poor and broken families.

MP Tharchen said that under the school-feeding programme, every student is given Nu 1,000 a month, which comes to about Nu 33 a student a day, and Nu 11 a meal. “If the government can spend Nu 11 a child each day for their lunch, the problems faced by students and the pressure for the need of central schools would be solved.”

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that the views of the MPs are in line with the government’s and the ministry’s policy.

He said that the government hopes to benefit about 70 percent of students with the establishment of 60 more central schools in future. “We are looking into the cost, policy, and benefits of providing lunch to the remaining students.”

MP Tharchen also proposed appointing a designated person to look after the quality of food provided in schools.

He said that currently there is no designated person and it is either looked after by the principals, teachers or other staff, which adds extra burden to them. “If there is a designated person, issues related to the recommendations made by Royal Audit Authority such as quality, training, and monitoring would be solved.”

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that the ministry is in the process of transferring the responsibilities of looking after the food quality to the matrons and wardens. “Terms of reference for about 200 recently appointed matrons and wardens include being in-charge of food quality and nutrition.”

He also said that the ministry is trying to replace imported vegetables containing high amount of chemicals with those produced at home. “We have arrived at a situation where we can supply our own required food items.”

He said that in the past, the country was self-sufficient in vegetables for only three months, whereas today, the country is self-sufficient for nine months and has to import for only three months. “We are also working on school agriculture programmes and leasing about six acres of land to schools for agricultural purposes so that schools are self-sufficient.”

A dietary assessment is also on – going to assess food baskets for different age groups and to find out if the Nu 1,000 a month stipend is enough for the students.

Karma Cheki

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