School feeding programme: teachers lament inadequate unds


February 1, 2017 By Ibrahim Turay & Elizabeth Kaine
A survey conducted by Concord Times in various primary schools in Freetown to evaluate the new schools feeding programme has revealed that most schools are yet to receive any funds to commence the programme, while funds received by other schools are grossly inadequate to feed all the pupils.
However, Director of the National School Feeding Programme, Sylvester Meheux, noted that 2,307 out of 4,000 schools were validated for the programme and that the remaining ones presented wrong information, hence could not be included and catered for.
“Some schools presented wrong details and personal bank accounts. Some of the account names were wrongly spelt but we have rectified them and now working with the Accountant General at the Ministry of Finance to get them included in the programme,” he said.
The school feeding programme is being implemented as a pilot project under the President’s Recovery Priority goals, albeit exclusively targeting government assisted schools. It main objective is to ensure the retention of pupils in primary schools.
During the course of our investigation, Concord Times also found out that in some schools pupils and teachers are involved in preparing the food because no provision was made to hire professional cooks.
Mr. Meheux admitted they did not hire professional cooks as the scheme was community driven, thus community members should be involved in the preparation of food. However, he noted that teachers and pupils have been strictly warned to stay off the exercise.
“We are not paying for the cooking service because we are using a community model in which community members are expected to participate,” he said, and urged people to volunteer as a mark of patriotism and in the interest of children and the country.
But Head Teacher of Christ Church Primary School, Madam Jane James, described the arrangement as ‘bizarre’ because they were of the notion that government would provide cooking utensils and also hire the services of professional cooks to prepare the food.
“The money is not sufficient but we have to manage to implement the programme because it is a directive from the government. We are pleading to the government to increase the funds so that pupils will have good food to eat,” she said.
On her part, Acting Head Teacher of Christ Church Infant school, Madam Patricia J. Cooper, expressed joy that her school was among the lucky ones selected for the programme, but noted that they were facing several constraints.
“Government disbursed Le9 million to cover one term for my school but the money is not enough because I have 489 pupils enrolled in the school. The ministry only used the data they had without taking into consideration new entrants,” she told our reporters.
“The Le650 [six hundred and fifty Leones] is not enough to take care of one pupil. A bag of rice cost Le210, 000 and we have to buy other cooking items which are very expensive in the market. Mind you, we are cooking it for children so we have to be careful not to put the wrong source in the pot,” she said.
Madam Cooper said they were facing a serious challenge of human resource to prepare the food for hundreds of pupils, teachers and those who assist them prepare the food for the pupils.
Head Teacher at Dr. S.M. Broderick Primary School, Mrs. Agnes Jalloh, explained similar sentiment, lamenting the hike in the prices of foodstuffs.
Contrary to what the director of the schools feeding programme had been saying that they would make use of local produce for the school feeding, Concord Times gathered that mostly imported rice and other products are being used to prepare the basic meal for elementary school pupils.
Meanwhile, Director Meheux told Concord Times that the issue of new entrants would be looked into and be solved soonest.