School Feeding Program: The difference made by one meal a day

‘A child who hasn’t eaten is unteachable. By feeding children, you’re starting to open the doors to learning,’ Head Teacher Obongi Primary School Arua District

Access to education is today considered a basic human right as well as essential for both human and social development. Since the launch of the Government of Uganda’s Universal Primary Education policy in 1996, gross national enrolment has more than doubled from 4 million to over 8 million (National Education Profile 2014 Update). Despite the implementation of this policy, rural communities are still faced with obstacles which prevent children from attending school. A baseline assessment by Moyo District NGO Forum (MODINGOF) in Moyo District revealed that 20% of children of school going age in the sampled 12 schools were not in school – a substantial amount higher than the national average of 14%. With the existing inclusive government policy already in place, MODINGOF had to do something under the IDF supported project in order to boost the number of children in schools.

Interventions involve dialogue and mutual negotiations with parents on contributions to make towards the feeding program. Through the Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), School Management Committees, (SMCs) and the school administration, parents discuss options and they agree to make contributions based on their preferences.  Some prefer food contributions while others prefer making cash contributions. The foods include maize, beans and cassava among other locally available food produced within the communities. Seven out of the eight schools have shown tremendous success in feeding their pupils and have sustained the activity. The food contributions are made to the schools to feed the pupils and the quantity of grains or cassava delivered is equivalent to the cash contributions agreed upon between the parents and the school. Those who chose to make cash contributions pay 10,000 to 30,000 per month depending on the arrangement between the school and parents through the Parent Teacher Associations and School Management Committees.

The school feeding program had a tremendous impact on PLE results. Itula Primary School moved form position 52 (2014) to 16 (2016) in the district. It also had no fails. Lefori Primary School also broke the dry spell of having no Division one for eight years by getting 1 in 2016. Gopele Primary School also had 24 candidates in Division II, 23 in Div III and 3 in Div IV with no failures. In most schools performance trends has been positive and this is majorly attributed to the feeding program.  The leadership of Moyo District both technical and political are thankful for MODINGOF-IDF for the initiative.

In the last one year of the IDF support, there have been dramatic improvements in enrolment, attendance and concentration, and whilst it is impossible to measure exactly what role the school feeding program is playing in this improvement, it has undisputedly had enormous impact. ‘Now, kids are in school and time wastage is gone!’ says Abiraga Moses, head teacher of Itula primary school.

The enrolment has also gone up from 6,655 to 8,394 and increase of 1,700 in the supported 10 schools in just the last one year of intervention by MODINGOF with enrolment figures rising steadily. Maliama Rose a parent from Lefori Primary School expressed joy with the introduction of the feeding programme which has greatly improved on the level of concentration of pupils in class. “We used to feel dizzy in class before the introduction of the feeding programme at school.” Said one of the pupils in Itula Primary School when confessing on the importance of the feeding programme which has improved on his level of concentration in class, an evidence emerging from the recent PLE exams.

Angela Madraa is a member of a task force that is charged with following up children in their homes when they fail to attend class due to lack of a meal at lunch. She acknowledges the forum for the good work done in the reduction of absenteeism and late coming in the school through the establishment of the program. Development of a school plan and budget as well as termly accountability has motivated parents to make contributions. Before the project interventions, schools had an emergency fee ranging from 1,000 to 2,500/= per term and no PTA Development could take place. However, when the project started and the head teachers and user committees were empowered to come up with budgets and work plans, the amount increased to a minimum of 5,000/= per term per child. Collections have also improved as emergency fee collection stood at 90% on average by the end of term compared to between 40% -60% in the past.  Working with the RDC’s office has made it easy to enforce collections of parents’ contribution using task force. Children are not sent home but rather a task force follows up parents who did not fulfil their pledges.

This has been further facilitated by effective accountability that is shared with the parents during the meetings. As a result, all schools were able to collect on average, 95% of their dues from parents for exams, emergency fees and feeding among others.

There is evidence that if parents are involved in the school’s affairs they are willing to contribute to the well-being of their children. “We have learnt the importance of feeding our children and supporting teachers. I am now proud that my child has performed well. This has served as an example to the rest of the parents and I am sure that the programme of feeding children will continue,” added Maliama Rose, a parent from Lefori Primary School. The success of the school feeding program among other interventions is also attributed to the good operating environment provided by both the political and technical authorities in the district. Acceptance of roles and obligations in improving performance in the education sectors in Moyo District by all stakeholders and the willingness of leaders like the RDC, LC V, DEO, SMC, PTA, Head Teachers and duty bearers among others to sensitize and advocate for change of attitude in order to improve performance has been a success.

Mr Waigo Tobias the chairperson SMC/PTA of Lefori Primary School said that the most critical goal of any feeding program must be to secure and retain children in schools. It is imperative that the school feeding addresses not only needs in the education service but also works to improve each child’s wellbeing as a whole, and the school feeding program is exemplary of the way in which the SDGs can be achieved in rural hard-to-reach areas. He also appealed to the project funders to extend the project for at least three more years to achieve better results.

Lessons Learnt:

Increased hours for pupils and teachers, they don’t waste time looking for food due to the long distances home. (From 25 hours to the recommended 40 hours per week)

Community involvement in decision-making and on how to run the feeding based on their own environment was more sustainable. School gardening is key to supplementing the program and boosts nutrition.

Agreement of amount or item value to contribute by parents in meetings made implementation of actions agreed upon possible. Those who would want to hide under the cover of the RDC, DISO or GISO in pretext that management is going against the UPE policy were already answered by the policy itself where parents are mandated to feed their children whether at school or at home.

Acceptance of both food items and cash based on individual capacity made the feeding program possible and establishment of separate committee to run the feeding program composed of teachers and parents made work quite easy

Involvement of government: Including the offices of RDC, DISO, LC V, and LC III in monitoring, feedback meetings among others made them strong supporters of the project that is why an Education Ordinance was enacted through IDF support where community views were sought. The District Social Services Committee is set to deliberate and include issues left out and identified through community meetings and approval in the next District Council meeting.