The National Teachers Union (Natu) is calling for a forensic probe into a protracted legal wrangling that involves the KwaZulu-Natal department of education and feeding scheme service providers in the province.
Natu’s Alan Thompson said the matter has been dragging on for long and that while the parties fight over who should be providing the service, millions of school children across the province are starving.
“Learners are currently writing their final examinations with empty stomachs. There is no way they can prepare adequately and focus while they are hungry. Whatever the problems, let us not involve the children especially at this time of the year,” said Thompson.
He expressed disappointment with the way the provincial education department is dealing with the matter. “We feel strongly that only a forensic investigation can help address the problem,” said Thompson.
He said the feeding scheme has become a lucrative business running into billions. According to the latest figures, the cost of a nutrition programme per annum is R1.4 billion and this involves 5 250 schools and 2.2 million learners.
National School Nutrition Programme is a national policy which seeks to promote healthy eating habits and healthy lifestyles among learners. Several research studies conducted by the department of basic education and other organisations have highlighted the benefits of providing meals to children at school.
Some of the benefits include reduced levels of absenteeism and increased learner participation in school work. Majority of learners in black communities come from impoverished households and cannot afford to buy basic food. They struggle to concentrate in class and some end up dropping out of school.
The nature of the problem around the feeding scheme mirrors the ongoing SASSA debacle currently playing out in parliament. It is all about the principle of protecting the vulnerable when two elephants fight. The old service provider’s contract came to an end and the new service providers wanted to take over. However, a dispute ensued between the parties resulting in the matter being referred to court. In the end, the Pietermaritzburg high court ruled that while the matter is being considered, the old service providers must be allowed to feed the learners.
But the newly-appointed service providers ignored the order and went to schools to feed learners. This caused chaos and disrupted schooling in some areas. The new service providers argued they had already spent a lot of money buying food items and that most of these are perishable.
The department of education called the police to calm the situation and to enforce the court order. Thompson said their pleas to the department fell on deaf ears while children remained disadvantaged.
Inside Education’s attempts to get a comment from the department failed.