Our students in boarding schools are not eating the right or good food. This is according to the Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) latest performance report on the school-feeding programme in 16 schools.

There is lack of standard dietary requirement prescribed for students and schools are unable to ensure required nutrient intake. We have not forgotten the case in Orong Higher Secondary School in Samdrupjongkhar where two students died due to nutrition deficiency. Five students from the same schools had to be sent to Guwahati in Assam, India for medical tests related to nutritional deficiency.

The food prepared in visited schools was found unpalatable and unappetizing, discouraging students to eat the right portion, resulting in fewer intakes of nutrients. According to national nutrition survey, dietary intake is poor especially in rural areas where almost 27.3 percent of pregnant women and 31.3 percent adolescent girls are anaemic. Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk said that 90 percent of the children do not receive required nutrition.

RAA has recommended the education ministry to develop a minimum dietary requirement standard for students besides instituting a strong monitoring and inspection mechanism to ensure that all schools comply with the standard. There is a need to employ an effective mechanism for monitoring nutritional status. As yet, it is difficult for teachers to coordinate and take care of fresh feeding items for a large number of students. Periphery neuropathy or hidden hunger could affect learning abilities of students.

It has also been found that food items supplied to schools are infested or damaged. Although schools are required to inspect damage and infestations, this is not happening. Such things happen because of lack of capacity or means to check the quality of food commodities delivered. This calls for a strong quality control system in school, which will require standardising storage facilities.

Between July 2014 and December 2015, a total of 36.4MT of food items in schools were found damaged.

Agricultural diversification is seen as critically important to improve nutrition and better health among school children. And there are interventions worked out.

What is important is that we establish nationally-owned, sustainable school meals programme as WFP is phasing out their programme from Bhutanese schools.