Bangladesh clears draft school meal policy to ensure nutrition of 15 million children

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2019-08-19 22:04:57 BdST

The cabinet has endorsed the draft of ‘National School Meal Policy 2019’ to ensure nutrition of 15 million children by providing them with food at primary and pre-primary educational institutions across Bangladesh.

The draft policy highlights efforts to expand a midday meal programme, which now covers some schools experimentally, all over the country in a coordinated way, according to Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam.

He briefed the media after the council of ministers approved the draft in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Monday.

The policy aims to ensure that the children aged between 3 and 12 years and studying in primary and pre-primary schools get 30 percent of calorie they need daily from school meal.

Gias Uddin Ahmed, an additional director at the primary and mass education ministry, said currently cooked meals are served at schools in three Upazilas and biscuits in 104 others, including 11 funded by the World Food Programme.

Presence of students in the schools has increased due to the meal programme, with cooked meal pushing the presence by 11 percent and biscuit by 6 percent, according to Gias.

The dropout rate in these areas has also fallen by 6.6 percent, Gias said and added that health of the students has improved as well.

Anaemia has declined among the children who ate cooked food at school by 16.7 percent and by 4.7 percent among those who had biscuits, according to the official.

The cabinet took into consideration these facts while clearing the draft policy, he said.

He also said the government was trying to add some some variety to the meal with biscuit, banana and egg common and only biscuit on Thursday, when the institutions hold classes half day.

It will take Tk 28.35 billion annually if the students get only biscuits with Tk 9 per student daily, but the cost will rise to Tk 74.75 billion with Tk 25 per student daily if egg, banana, and bread are added, according to Gias.

If cooked meal is provided five days and biscuits of Thursdays, the annual cost will be Tk 55.6 billion, he said.

“We will use all the models, whichever is applicable in an area,” the official said.

As much as 10 to 15 percent of the daily necessary calorie should come from protein and 15-30 percent from fat, according to the National Food Composition Table. To ensure diversity in food items, at least four groups of food out of 10 must be used a week.

Gias said the government wants to cover all areas of the country within 2023.

Currently, 66,000 government primary schools in Bangladesh have 14 million students, 3 million of whom are being provided with meals at the institutions at Tk 4.74 billion a year.

The experimental programme will continue until 2020, Gias said and added the implementation of the programme in light of the policy will start across Bangladesh in January, 2021.

Cabinet Secretary Shafiul said the government prioritised shoal and backswamp areas for the programme.