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School feeding programme must receive priority

That the Ministry of Education has begun taking initiatives to improve school feeding programme is good news. It has been long time coming. Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) performance report on the school-feeding programme in 16 schools found that our students in boarding schools are not eating the right or good food and recommendations were made to improve the feeding programme in schools.

It was also found that food prepared in schools were unpalatable and unappetising, discouraging students to eat the right portion, which resulted in fewer intake of nutrients. There is a need to develop standard dietary requirement and systematic monitoring system. More importantly, there is a need to employ an effective mechanism for monitoring nutritional status because it has also been found that food items supplied to schools are infested or damaged. Between July 2014 and December 2015, a total of 36.4MT of food items supplied to schools were found damaged.

Poor quality food caused death of two students in Orong Higher Secondary School due to nutrition deficiency. Five students from the same school had to be sent to Guwahati in Assam, India for medical tests related to nutritional deficiency.

We do not yet know how many children in schools do not receive required nutrition. 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.

Periphery neuropathy or hidden hunger can affect learning abilities of students.

Efforts are being made to involve health ministry and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority to ensure that feeding programme in schools are monitored regularly and improved as and when necessary. That is good development. At a time WFP is phasing out their programme from Bhutanese schools, it is important that we establish nationally-owned, sustainable school feeding programme.

What our schools do not have is the capacity. Specialised professional assistance must, therefore, be structured and provided so that the attempts at improving school feeding programme are successful.

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