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Over 5 Million SA Learners Still Not Receiving School Meals – DBE report

NYAKALLO TEFU

WHILE the implementation of the National School Nutrition Programme has improved, over 5 million children who qualify to benefit from the school feeding scheme are still not receiving their meals.

This was revealed in Parliament by the Department of Basic Education’s director general Mweli Mathanzima during a presentation on the state of reopening schools, updates on the National School Nutrition Programme, and draft directions for Learners with Special Education Needs.

The department said that as of August 26, 4.4 million learners out of the 9 million qualifying learners were receiving their meals

According to official data from basic education, 9.7 million children from a total of 19,000 schools depended on the feeding programme.

The programme fell away during the coronavirus lockdown imposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March.

A high court judge later ruled that the department must maintain the programme even if schools were closed, or learners are attending irregularly.

The department of basic education has attributed the low number of learners collecting meals to the lack of transport available for the learners who live far from their school.

The department said a large amount of food was wasted because learners did not show up to school to collect their meals.

It also said fears around COVID-19 also meant many parents had not sent their children to school, reducing the number of learners who collected meals at schools.

Equal Education and Section27 said they will continue to monitor the rollout of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

Section27’s spokesperson Julia Chaskalson told Inside Education on Monday: “Data from the DG’s presentation implies that yes, only 4.4million learners are being fed – less than half of the intended beneficiaries. We are in the process of cross-checking the numbers from the different presentations at parliament and checking them against the court reports to try figure out how many learners are actually collecting meals. We are worried that because many schools are having rotating systems to ensure social distancing, many learners at home might do not receive the meals that they are eligible for.”

Chaskalson added: “It’s important that even if learners are at home on a particular day because of rotating or platoon systems, that the school and education authorities plan for this and send learners home with food parcels or that they provide scholar transport so that learners can come into school to collect their meals.”

Equal Education and Section 27 say they want to ensure the Department of Basic Education (DBE) upholds learners’ rights to basic nutrition.

This includes learners who are only in school on certain days due to rotating timetables during lockdown.

Those who have to stay out of school due to medical or other reasons should also receive meals.

The groups welcome the education department’s efforts to improve the rollout of the NSNP after the scheme was halted during lockdown.

“The DBE has updated NSNP monitoring tools and some provinces are developing electronic systems for reporting and monitoring information on the NSNP,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.

“The education departments developed communications plans so that learners and parents [or] caregivers would know that the NSNP had restarted.”

The civil organisations say still face challenges getting accurate information on the number of leaners who are receiving meals.

“In some cases it is unclear whether the data refers to all learners who are receiving meals, or only learners who are back at school, or only learners who are still at home,” said the NGOs.

“Feedback to us from school communities shows that there has been improvement in the rollout of the NSNP but there are still some obstacles that prevent learners from benefiting from the NSNP if they are not at school for classes. Many learners will not be at school every day, either because of social distancing arrangements in school or for medical reasons.”

SECTION27 and EELC said they have written to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the Education MECs this week to express that they welcome the improvements, and to ask that the next set of reports should include information on how they will ensure that learners who are only back in classrooms on certain days, or learners who have permission to stay home, are still able to get food. 

The organizations said feedback to us from school communities shows that there has been improvement in the rollout of the NSNP but there are still some obstacles that prevent learners from benefiting from the NSNP if they are not at school for classes.

SECTION27 and EELC says:  

  • Last week, Equalisers (EE learner members) from a few schools in King William’s Town and one school in Keiskammahoek in the Eastern Cape said that learners only got meals when they were at school for classes, but that when their grades were told to remain at home because of the rotating school timetables necessary for physical distancing, they could not receive meals.
  • In the last week of August, Equalisers from a few schools in Tembisa and in Daveyton in Gauteng, said that there wasn’t enough food for all learners at school and some were only given a piece of fruit or didn’t get any food at all. 
  • In the last week of August, at one school in Sekhukhune in Limpopo, not enough food was delivered for all learners that should get meals and so only Grade 12s who were back at school were given meals. 
  • In the last week of August, we received reports from several schools across Vhembe, Mopani and Sekhukhune districts in Limpopo that only the matrics who were then back at school were receiving meals, and that the lack of scholar transport prevented learners in other grades from collecting their meals.
  • In the last week of August, Equalisers in a small number of schools in Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal, and in GaMashashane in Limpopo, said that they still weren’t receiving meals. Learners and caregivers from two schools in eThekwini district in KwaZulu-Natal said that only the Grade 12s who were back at school in mid-August were receiving meals, as most other learners didn’t have scholar transport and lived too far away from school to walk to collect their meals or food parcels. 

(COMPILED BY INSIDE EDUCATION STAFF)

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