It is 1:00 p.m, lunchtime but Josephine Nnaku, a primary five student in one of the schools in town will not have the daily school lunch of posho and beans
It is 1:00 p.m, lunchtime but Josephine Nnaku, a primary five student in one of the schools in town will not have the daily school lunch of posho and beans.
As her friends happily line up outside the mud and wattle kitchen to receive lunch, the lanky young girl miserably sits on the verandah of her classroom waiting for the afternoon class to start.
â€œI cannot have lunch because my father did not pay the lunch fees, so the headmaster told me not to line up for food,â€ she says with a faint smile on her face.
Sometimes Nnaku carries two pieces of cassava in her bag, but this is only if they had supper the previous night at home. Otherwise, she comes to school without anything to eat.
Nnaku is a victim of a policy in urban government aided primary schools which requires all children to, among other charges, pay sh10,000 every term as lunchfees to enable schools prepare meals for the pupils.
The policy, adopted at the inception of Universal Primary Education (UPE) and agreed upon by government, urban authorities and headteachers of various city schools, also mandated the schools to charge an additional sh10,400 for utilities such as electricity, telephone and water among other bills.
Seven years down the road, government has turned its back on the policy, calling for the abolition of any charges by schools from parents, including lunch fees.
â€œIâ€™m totally against the idea of lunch prepared by school authorities,â€ said President Yoweri Museveni while addressing the second stakeholdersâ€™ conference on UPE at the International Conference Centre recently.
The President who said that school authorities were looking for easy ways of making money by charging lunchfees suggested that children should be allowed to bring packed food from home.
Governmentâ€™s abolition of charging lunchfees from parents has not gone down well with primary school teachers.
â€œAs teachers we feel that payment of sh10,000 lunchfees by parents is the cheapest way of keeping children at school,â€ says Francis Ssenabulya, headteacher, Kitante Primary School.
â€œIf you divided the sh10,000 charged per student by the 65 days in a term, it would come to sh154 per plate of warm food, which is far cheaper than the hassle of buying food flasks, food and the time spent by parents cooking and packing food for their children.
â€œWe have learnt from experience that there are many children who attend school simply because they know they will be provided with lunch so we should provide meals at school to ensure attendance of children,â€ he adds.
However, there is a question mark about children whose parents cannot afford to pay.
â€œIt is true that many children miss school because of their parentsâ€™ failure to pay the lunchfees, but also there are many children dropping out because they do not have anything to eat. But when we weigh the options available, it is better to provide meals at school because it brings about order in the school.
â€œThe policy ensures that lunch is served in time and students go back to class in time, hence keeping the school programmes running, which would be hard to do, if each student were to cater for themselves,â€ says Patrick Kitagenda, headteacher of Nakivubo Settlement Primary School.
â€œI do not mind whether food is prepared at school or at home, the most important thing is that children do not go hungry. However, it would be much more convenient, if parents paid and all students had one common meal because it is more hygienic and organised,â€ says Rose Mukandori, headteacher Buganda Road Primary school.
â€œThe reason why we are insisting on lunchfees is to ensure uniformity and order in schools. Allowing each pupil to carry their own food would mean that pupils carry different type of food. You will find that children from rich families carry expensive foods while those from poor families do not carry at all. This might result into some pupils who do not pack nice food stealing other pupilsâ€™ food,â€ says Stanley Mvuyekure, deputy headteacher Bat Valley Primary School.
â€œCharging of lunchfees from parents is the only way we can ensure that all students eat,â€ says one headmaster of a city school who spoke on condition of anonymity.
â€œThere are many homes where parents due to shortage of food or lack of time cannot pack food for their children and this means that some children will go hungry, which would not be the case if parents paid a modest sh10,000 for the whole term,â€ he says.
However, government is opposed to the way the system has been handled in most schools. While it is true that urban government aided primary schools were allowed to charge sh20,400 from each parent to cover utilities and lunch costs, many schools have abused this system, by hiking the fees, hence keeping children away from school.
â€œThis is against the basic UPE principal of providing equitable and unhindered access to education,â€ says Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesman in the ministry of Education.
Dr. Julius Enon, an education psychologist says feeding is very important to the development of the human brain more so for young children.
â€œChildren who feed well perform well in class, while those who study on empty stomachs either dose or run away from school, which affects their performance,â€ he adds.
Should Government abolish lunch fees?