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Breakfast programme gets off to rocky start

Children eating off the floor sparks outrage



The roll-out of the government’s countrywide school breakfast programme was met with ridicule by some parents when it was discovered that a number of pupils had been forced to eat off the floor.

In response to photos circulating on social media of pupils sitting on the floor to eat breakfast off paper and angry comments by parents, the education ministry issued a statement saying two classrooms had been found to have violated the rules of the breakfast programme.

The ministry condemned the negligent staff “in the harshest terms” and said action had been taken against those responsible.  It reassured concerned parents that it would monitor schools to ensure they fully complied with health and safety standards.

The first phase of the programme was launched in 25 schools at the beginning of the 2019 academic year on January 13. The remaining 188 schools in the country started the breakfast programme on Tuesday.

Providing every pupil with a nutritious breakfast was a campaign pledge of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and a target of his administration’s 100-day action plan.

Speaking at a ceremony at Thaajudheen School in the capital Malé, Vice President Faisal Naseem said healthy eating plays an important part in a child’s education.

“Students have to focus on what they are being taught. And they have to do it till the end of the school day. A healthy breakfast will help them achieve that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dr Aishath Ali said pupils’ concentration and attendance had improved since the start of the programme.

“According to the results of the pilot programme, the students’ focus on lessons increased during the period of the programme. The number of students who came late dropped significantly since the programme started, while the number of students who fall sick and faint during assembly has also decreased,” she said.

Ten menus have been created with the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Health Protection Agency and nutrition experts. Menu items include omelettes, sandwiches, baked beans or flat bread, and various forms of mashuni (shredded coconut mixed with other ingredients such as tuna and onions), all of which are served with a packet of full-cream milk.

There are 213 schools in the country, with 73,035 pupils and 9,800 teachers, of which 7,900 are Maldivian and 1,900 are foreign nationals, according to the education ministry.

The government set a budget of MVR123 million (US$7,964,188) for the breakfast programme this year.