Past and present of school mealas pedagogical tools Abu Muaj and Moinul Alam
Mid-day Meals (MDM)hit the news headlines and became talk of the country when the ministry of mass education planned to send nearly hundred officials abroad to learn distribution of MDM as alleged by a secretary concerned. The issue raised debates as many critics termed such step as wastage of government fund in the name of pleasure trip and also labelled it as ‘learning khichuri (hotchpotch) cooking’. In the face of growing criticisms everywhere, the Planning Division cancelled the proposal recently.
In the wake of waste of public money, we have become interested into looking back to historical development of food for education in Asia, Europe and America. Mid-day meal also known as school meal or school lunch refers to a meal containing highly nutritious food enriched with energy provided to students at the beginning or middle of a day. In developed countries MDM is provided as a source of nutrition or sometimes a pedagogical tool to train pupils with food and nutrition in richer countries. But in developing countries such meal is an incentive for the parents for sending their children to the school and also an effective tool for putting a brake on dropouts.
When the Holy Quran started revealing on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) requiring every Muslim to read, read and memorize, a new nation with the spirit of learning emerged in Mecca. After thirteen years of reading and learning about creator, his chosen prophet and the future destination (tawheed, risalat and akhirat) in most cases secretly, readers got heavenly chance to read and learn about all the diktats of personal, political, socio-economic and state affairs. A dedicated group of scholars were created by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which was known as Ahli ?uffah or Al Suffah or Dikkat al-Aghawt or Al Zullah. It was a shelter that was available at the rear side of Al-Masjid an-Nabawi during the Medina period (622-632) of early Islam. Homeless and unmarried muhajirun (companions of Muhammad who migrated from Mecca) who did not have relatives in Medina, dwelt in al-Suffah where they were mainly learning the Quran and sunnah. These people were called “Ashab al-Suffa”, which translates to “Suffah Fraternity”.Muhammad used to sit with them, chat together, and used to call them to his food, sharing together his drinks, so they were counted as his dependants. Companions of the Prophet used to take two or three of the Ashab al-Suffah to feed them at home and used to select the best dates and hang them in al-Suffah’s ceiling for meals. So meal for education started in Medina and from these scholars who number between 300 to 400 and it lasted about nine years till they became rich before the death of Muhammad. Later, every one of them became a ruler or an emir.
But in Europe, MDM can be traced back in 1790 when school lunches were served in Munich Germany. Besides, in the United Kingdom, school meal was introduced in the nineteenth century and the first National School Meals Policy was published in 1941. In the United States, school lunches were introduced in 1933. MDM is provided in different countries of different continents across the world from Europe to Australia and from Africa to Asia.In our sub-continent, MDM in India was introduced in 1925 one of the oldest food programme for schoolchildren.
In the Islamic world, la kharaj land, allocated for mosques and madrassah Muslim government but it didn’t levy tax, was used to facilitate primary, secondary and tertiary education. But in the Muslim Indian subcontinent waqf trust used to help education in pre and post Mughal period. Later came the British people to colonize Muslim India. Then in post-colonial India mid-day meal started to become popular.
In Bangladesh, the MDM was tried intermittently since independence era but it was never sustainable. In July 2002, Government of Bangladesh and World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations launched the School Feeding Programme (SFP) with the aim to promote enrolment and retention. The SFP consisted of eight highly nutritious wheat biscuits providing 300 kilocalories and fulfilling 75 percent of the daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. The biscuits were distributed as mid-morning snack between one million children studying in around six thousand primary schools along with four slums of the capital. Each pack of biscuit cost US 6 cents.
However, the MDM witnessed transition from biscuits to fresh and hot cooked school meals in Bangladesh back in the year 2013 under a pilot project operated by the WFP. The meal included fresh vegetables along with lentils and micronutrient-fortified rice and oil. These fresh meals proved to be cost effective in the battle against micronutrient deficiency.With the aim to bring all the government primary schools under the purview of the MDM by the year 2023, the Bangladesh government approved the National School Meal Policy 2019. The MDM will be provided to the students of the pre-primary and primary schools between the age range of 3 to 12 years.
It has been estimated that around Tk 2,835 crore will be needed annually for providing biscuits to all the schools and nearly Tk 5,560.80 crore will be required for providing cooked meals for five days from Saturday to Wednesday and biscuits on Thursday every week. An amount of Tk 7,475 crore will be required for providing biscuit, egg, banana and bread in every meal.
The schoolchildren may be considered as one of the groups worse affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Since the outbreak of coronavirus schools across Bangladesh have been closed. In consequence, academic career of millions of children is at risk. The government is still not considering it a suitable time to reopen the schools. However, schools around the world particularly in the US and UK have been opened after the first wave of coronavirus outbreak. In Bangladesh, the government has been left with the uphill task of ensuring health safety as the government has framed some guidelines for all the schools ahead of a likely reopening before December.
The WFP has issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to ensure safety and quality of MDM in case the schools reopen amid corona pandemic. The SOPs cover precooking stage to distribution of meals including buying raw materials, preparation for cooking, cooking the meals and monitoring the MDM. Safety measures to be taken before the schools open include: sanitization of kitchen sheds, upgrading infrastructure, capacity building of cooks and other concerned with the MDM.
According to the SOP while purchasing raw materials social distancing has to be followed and fruits and vegetables have to be washed thoroughly with chlorine. Besides, materials should preferably be purchased from a single shop and the outer baggage have to be sanitized.
Considering preparation for cooking the SOP prescribes for personal hygiene of the cook including taking share and washing clothe every day, washing hands for twenty seconds and not to touch face while cooking. Besides, the cook should not be allowed to work if he suffers from coughing, fever or sneezing and the cook should wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while cooking.
The SOP emphasizes on food distribution in a scattered manner in order to maintain social distancing. Moreover, necessary marking should also be done in order to specify safety distances. The SOP discourages any contact between schoolchildren with the staff and containers and stresses on the wearing of PPE by those distributing the MDM.
As far as monitoring of the MDM is concerned, the management committee of the school has a huge role to play including physical presence to make sure compliance with COVID related safety measures by all involved with MDM from pre-cooking stage to distribution. The principal and teachers have been encouraged to monitor compliance meticulously.
In fine, it may opined that MDM plays a vital role as far as students afflicted with extreme poverty are concerned. Covid-19 poses new challenges as far as reopening of schools are concerned. The government along with everyone concerned including: the ministry of health, directorate of health, local civil and police administration and school committee have to be proactive to ensure safety of the schoolchildren. In addition, they have to be vigilant so that the highly contagious virus does not spread in any manner amongst schoolchildren as such contamination may usher in a catastrophe within the pandemic rendering the situation beyond the control of the authority. n