Why lunch at school ‘must be compulsory’
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Jovial mood: lunch time at a primary school. (File photo)

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SOME government directives on education are compulsory. For example, every Tanzanian child must attend school. Schools must have desks. Every ward must have a secondary school and a laboratory. A village must have a primary school etc. and things work fine.

At independence when Mwalimu Julius Nyerere made his serious but sometimes humorous speeches, he would emphasize that his administration was determined to fight three enemies, which he mentioned as ignorance, disease and poverty.

This did not mean that Mwalimu would fight the war alone, but the citizens too had a role to play to make sure the objectives were realised. Today, elders, parents and even guardians themselves praise Mwalimu’s stand and his government especially on education.

This was a service which was offered for free and quality was not compromised. Basically, free education meant that students had a good learning environment to help them perform well. During their time at school, they were provided with facilities such as free transport, meals, and even stationery.

Through such support, performance was amazing as schools had competent and dedicated teachers. However, as times have changed, there are various reforms that have been made towards achieving better results in the education sector.

There was a time parents had to dig deeper into their pockets to pay school fees. The government only offered support when it was necessary. Many children went to school but many also missed this opportunity or feigned an excuse to miss lessons.

Parents said they had no money as grinding poverty stalled their efforts to fend for their families. In some cases, the parents were required to bring a desk to school, as soon as they enrolled a child.

Things became more hectic when the government announced that every ward needs to have a secondary while ev ery village must have a primary school. Today however, there is a huge relief as far as education is concerned.

Both primary and secondary education is offered for free to Tanzanian children. This is indeed something to be thankful for even if children have to walk a long distance to school. At least, they will not be expelled for not paying school fees.

Part of the education policy directs that schools are at least located in the neighbourhood so that children do not have to walk very far from home. That is why we have primary school in every village.

Still, just as was the challenge with desks, (which was solved after President Joseph Pombe Magufuli intervened and the entire country contributed) there has been a persistent predica ment in public schools and that is the availability of meals.

This is a challenge to be tackled by all education stakeholders including the government, parents and donors. Children wake up very early in the morning and prepare themselves to go to school. Not all of them are given pocket money or can afford eating breakfast at home.

In government schools in dividuals have secured entrepreneurship chances, whereby they display various cookies that they sell to school children, in the school compound or where this is not allowed, they would sell outside the school compound.

However, not all children can afford to buy the cookies. Not all parents can provide pocket money to their children, as a result some even steal from their parents’ meagre income to be able to buy themselves snacks.

Many however, go without breakfast and luch. Sixteen year old Tatu Saidi is in form three and lives with her single mother who earns her living as a casual laborer on people’s farms. ‘’ My mother has lots of obligations to handle, including taking care of her sick mother and my four younger brothers.

I concentrate on the lessons during morning hours but in the afternoon, I’m completely hungry and absent-minded due to hunger,’’ says Tatu, adding that she has decided to make doughnuts and sell them in the evening to fend for her own pocket money.

‘’I don’t get a chance to study in the evening, and when I do it’s probably half an hour then I dose off. Juma Ramadhani dropped out of school when he was in standard six he had to leave because he could not bear the it any more. His father makes the ends meet by trying his luck at Buguruni Market where he is a casual labourer.

‘’ My mother was a housewife and sometimes my father came home with very little money for our supper only. This was not enough for my pocket money. I have dedicated my time on bodaboda (motorcycle taxi) and it pays.’’ Says Juma and adds that it was not easy to put up with his father’s habit of drinking.

Hilda Pius in Form One shares her situation saying that she lives with her step mother who pays no attention for her breakfast before she leaves for school. ‘’ I must perform the house chores then feed my step young sister then I am granted permission to go to school without pocket money.

I study on an empty stomach, and the in the last examination, I performed poorly , but I know why, I have been missing lunch, so I cannot concentrate in class,’’ says Hilda. Mrs Judith Mwasonge the headmistress at a local secondary school believes that a little lunch for children can help change their performance in the class.

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