Wednesday, October 23

Not all 2.7 mln primary schoolchildren need free breakfast – NGO

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KOTA KINABALU: Not all 2.7 primary schoolchildren in the country need free breakfast and the money for that initiative should be put to better use, said the Community Empowerment Initiative Sabah (CEI).

CIE in a statement pointed out: “Malaysians are constantly told that our nation has serious financial constraints.

“If this is so, we have to get our priorities right in spending. Waste of resources for those who do not need the assistance,” it said, referencing to Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik’s announcement of the free breakfast programme for primary schoolchildren which would start in January 2020 and cost between RM800 million to RM1.67 billion.

“Firstly, do all 2.7 million of our primary schoolchildren need assistance with breakfast? Certainly not! There is a substantial number of families who does not need the government to provide breakfast for their children.

“These children can bring their own food to school and be taught and encouraged to eat and share together. Food science should be emphasised in schools and parents can be encouraged to prepare healthy meals,” the statement stressed.

It added that the minister said the purpose of the programme was to ensure that primary school students were provided with a nutritious meal to start their day, provide the opportunity for teachers and students to bond when having breakfast together and to improve racial unity among the students as well as with teachers.

This programme, inspired by the Japanese schools, is a good programme but there are certain concerns which must be addressed before its full implementation, CEI opined.

“Unlike Japanese homogeneous society, we are a multicultural society with different preferences for meals. Many have different requirements – vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and etc. All of these factors need to be taken into account.

“For those who cannot afford, yes, the government should assist. There is already a RM289 million annual budget in place under a food scheme for students from underprivileged families in all schools where free meals and milk are supposed to be provided.

“How successful has this programme been? This has to be evaluated and results reported before embarking on a new programme with an explosive budget, especially for the poor students in the deep interiors of Sabah and Sarawak, but have our pupils benefited from this programme? In short, spending on those who are not in need is a waste of our resources,” it said.

It also urged the government to look at the priorities for schools in Sabah because while in Penisular Malaysia, people complained of schools without air-conditioning or fans, in Sabah we have schools without power and water supply and hundreds of dilapidated buildings which need urgent repairs.

The Sabah Education Ministry had estimated that the state needs more than RM3 billion to repair 587 dilapidated schools and this includes 91 schools which had been condemned as unsafe, CEI pointed out.

“This is an urgent need! However, recently, it was announced that Sabah would get only RM78 million to repair 19 dilapidated schools for its first phase for replacement schools.

“And in yesterday’s Budget 2020, RM783 million was announced to restore dilapidated schools – this budget is for the whole nation. While RM1.67 billion can be allocated for free breakfast for all students, only RM783 million is set aside for urgent basic building facilities and amenities. As to how much will be allocated to Sabah and Sarawak, we have to wait and see,” the statement said.

CEI was of the opinion that the education ministry should inculcate national unity through curriculum, co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities.

“Breakfast for all to improve racial unity is flimsy reasoning. Let’s not scratch the surface in addressing the elephant in the room. While we have political leaders calling for the triumph of one race over the rest, how does breakfasts of seven  to 12-year olds catch up for a cure for national unity?

“Seriously, our curriculum, including our co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities need a revamp. We need subjects on culture and unity and practical focused activities towards this goal. But let’s start with our history books, they need a total overhaul. Be honest with our history and anthropology and we will be on the right track,” it said.