10.5m Out-Of-School Children: Raising Enrolment Through Free Meals

10.5m out-of-school children: Raising enrolment through free meals

Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFHP), launched in 13 states as a pilot project in 2005, was designed by the Federal Government to, among other things, address the high rate of out-of-school children. Since then, only Osun State could carry on, writes MOJEED ALABI tweet

Eight-year-old Isola Adam and his six-year-old sister, Opeyemi Adam, had never been to school. They had lived with their grandmother in the remote village of Aaje in Orolu Local Government Area of Osun State, where their mother had taken them to after their father’s death.

Their mother, Mrs Juliana Adam, is one of the labourers standing every morning at Railway Line at Old Garage area of Osogbo, to be picked up by bricklayers in need of daily workers.

She lost her husband, a commercial bus driver, barely four years into their marriage; and since then, life has been very difficult for her. Hence, the decision to take the children to her mother in the village so that she could face life challenges alone.

However, with the modified school feeding project in public primary schools in the state, Adam had brought her two children to town and enrolled them in Grade 1 at the St. Michael Elementary School, Agowande, Osogbo. Similarly, Ilias Sarafa, upon the completion of his participation in the mandatory National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC), recently visited his hometown, Ilobu, in Irepodun Local Government Area of the state. He had made the unscheduled visit to his siblings who were schooling at home since their parents live in Ondo State where they are engaged in farming. But what Sarafa found out surprised him.

“I had some money on me when I visited them and I was afraid I might not be able to meet their needs because I expected them to have exhausted their foodstuffs and pocket money. But I was surprised to see them looking well-fed while also attending to their homework without being prodded.

“Even their kerosene was not exhausted, and their elder brother, who is in secondary school, said the food being served his three younger ones who attend Ansar-U-Deen Elementary School, Laaro, had sustained them. He said sometimes, when they could not finish their food in school, they bring the rest home,” Sarafa explained.

The story is the same in Ile-Ife, where 10-year-old Daniel Temitope was withdrawn from a private school in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital and was enrolled at Baptist Central Elementary School, Ilare, Ile-Ife, because his parents felt children of their neighbours attending the public school in the town were doing well.

Daniel, who was in Primary IV in Abakaliki, was placed in Grade II in Ile-Ife, when he could not pass the test conducted for him to be admitted. Asked what his opinion was about the new school, Daniel said; “They give us food here and they don’t teach us in Pidgin English.”

In all the state’s primary schools, especially in the rural communities of Kuta, Ile-Ogbo, Oba-Oke, Obaagun, Ogbaagba, Ifon-Osun, among others, investigation revealed astronomical increase in primary school enrolment; the development was predicated on the state’s food project, which has been rechristened Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme (O’Meal).

According to the deputy governor, who doubles as the Commissioner for Education, Otunba Grace Laoye-Tomori, the education summit organised in 2011 and chaired by the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, formed the basis upon which the investment in education stands, especially the repackaging of the school feeding project.

She said: “When we assumed office in 2010, what we found the kids being fed with was not attractive to us.

“Apart from the cocoa drink which was very good, the food wasn’t rich enough and to address that, we asked nutritionists and dieticians from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the Osun State University, for professional recommendations on food that will be ideal for children in their formative years.

“That was meant to address the stunted growth we discovered among the kids, especially those in the rural areas and recommended were foods with carbohydrates, protein and fruits on a daily basis.

“Apart from feeding them, we also dewormed them every six months. Statistics as at the end of July 2013 showed that on a weekly basis, we use 15,000 chicken; 7,800 crates of eggs, 400 tons of fresh fish and we also slaughter 35 heads of cattle for them. “So we spend N14.9 million on the school feeding project on a daily basis.” According to her, the government now spends N3.6 billion annually.

Investigation also revealed that the effort is already yielding results, especially in the areas of reduction in hunger among the children; improvement in their nutritional status; increase in school enrollment, attendance and retention in the classroom. All these measures, the state government said were aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Investigation also showed that the programme, which started across the state’s 1,378 primary schools on April 30, 2012, with 155,318 pupils, increased enrolment by almost 25 per cent within a month.

By May of that year, the figure had increased to 194,258; a total of 38,000 pupils had been rescued from the streets.UNESCO’s report of January 2012 stated that Osun was the second state with the highest number of out-ofschool children in the South-West with Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti states clearly ahead. But by July 2013, report of the National Bureau of Statistics recorded that Osun has the highest figure of primary school enrolment. Confirming the situation, a class teacher at Saint Michael Elementary School, Mrs Fasilat Ajiboye, told New Telegraph that the enrolment in her class at the beginning of the session was 40, but by the third week, it increased to 50. “As you can see, those pupils who are not putting on their school uniform are some of the pupils just admitted and that is because they have not been allocated their uniform, since it is given free by the state,” Ajiboye said. Similarly, one of the cooks, Mrs Eyinade Adebisi, said the initiative had helped the pupils greatly. According to her, on Wednesdays, when eggs are served on rice, the pupils eagerly look forward to their lunch time. “For us too, we are enjoying it. When we cook for the pupils on weekdays, we also work as caterers on weekends and that brings us extra money,” Adebisi said.

The former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, during whose tenure the school feeding project was introduced, said the idea was in realisation of the central role of nutrition to education. According to Obaji, that informed the partnership with the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other International Development Partners (IDPs) to initiate it. Apart from resolving hunger crisis among children, retention in class, and other benefits, the former minister told New Telegraph that the initiative was also meant to promote local agriculture that benefits rural farmers by using locally-sourced foods, providing regular orders and a reliable income for local farmers. True to Obaji’s claim is the situation in Osun, where a total of 3,007 women were appointed as food vendors by the state, and 1,000 farmers drawn from across the nine federal constituencies of the state were assisted to plant red cocoyam. The red cocoyam, nutritionists advised the state government, is more appropriate for the kids than other types of yam. According to the Operation Officer of O’Meal, Mrs Olubunmi Ayoola, about 90 women farmers were recently trained in modern method of cultivating cocoyam and were offered financial support after their graduation to commence their farming job.Ayoola added that the eggs being produced in the state were no longer enough for the supply required to feed the kids and that the state had also encouraged farmers to bring their products for the ready-made market. She said: “To further enhance this programme, the governor recently signed the Osun State Elementary School Feeding Transition Strategy Plan document with the representatives of the Board of the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) of the United Kingdom.”

The development, Obaji said, was what the Federal Government had targeted when it introduced the project in the 13 states selected from the six geo-political zones and Abuja in 2005 on a pilot scheme. They are Bauchi, Cross River, Enugu, Imo, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Rivers, Ogun, Osun, Nasarawa and Yobe states. “I am very sure if the other states had not backed out, the same effects being experienced in Osun now would have been recorded in all the other states, and the case of the 10.5 million out-of-school-children would not have arisen at all. “That may have also helped in curbing the insurrection currently being experienced in some northern states, because I could remember Yobe in particular was added then,” Obaji said. To justify the importance of food to education, a recent visit by our correspondent to Makoko, a slum in Lagos, revealed a countless number of children who claimed they had never been to school because they hawk for their parents. Ayomide Muka is a 12-year-old girl and only child of his mother, who said she was not allowed to attend school because she had to take fish to Agege market every day. “My mother will not allow me to go to school because she says I must work for what I would eat,” Muka said.

But according to the former Dean of the Postgraduate College, University of Lagos, Akoka, Prof. Aloy Ejiogu, nations with the best education policies do not toy with the quality of education offered in their basic schools, regarded as the foundation of learning. Ejiogu, who cited Finland, United States of America and India as nations where educational revolution had tak- Sanctity of Truth Tuesday, My mother will not allow me to go to school because she says I must work for what I would eat Obaji Ayoola Atinmo Ejiogu Aregbesola Laoye-Tomori UNESCO’s report of January 2012 stated that Osun was the second state with the highest number of out-of school children in the South-West with Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti states clearly ahead. But by July 2013, report of the National Bureau of Statistics recorded that Osun has the highest figure of primary school enrolment.

Confirming the situation, a class teacher at Saint Michael Elementary School, Mrs Fasilat Ajiboye, told New Telegraph that the enrolment in her class at the beginning of the session was 40, but by the third week, it increased to 50.

“As you can see, those pupils who are not putting on their school uniform are some of the pupils just admitted and that is because they have not been allocated their uniform, since it is given free by the state,” Ajiboye said. Similarly, one of the cooks, Mrs Eyinade Adebisi, said the initiative had helped the pupils greatly.

According to her, on Wednesdays, when eggs are served on rice, the pupils eagerly look forward to their lunch time. “For us too, we are enjoying it. When we cook for the pupils on weekdays, we also work as caterers on weekends and that brings us extra money,” Adebisi said.

The former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, during whose tenure the school feeding project was introduced, said the idea was in realisation of the central role of nutrition to education.

According to Obaji, that informed the partnership with the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other International Development Partners (IDPs) to initiate it.

Apart from resolving hunger crisis among children, retention in class, and other benefits, the former minister told New Telegraph that the initiative was also meant to promote local agriculture that benefits rural farmers by using locally-sourced foods, providing regular orders and a reliable income for local farmers.

True to Obaji’s claim is the situation in Osun, where a total of 3,007 women were appointed as food vendors by the state, and 1,000 farmers drawn from across the nine federal constituencies of the state were assisted to plant red cocoyam. The red cocoyam, nutritionists advised the state government, is more appropriate for the kids than other types of yam.

According to the Operation Officer of O’Meal, Mrs Olubunmi Ayoola, about 90 women farmers were recently trained in modern method of cultivating cocoyam and were offered financial support after their graduation to commence their farming job. en place, said the school feeding projects had helped in no small measure to achieve such feat.

Also, the President, Federation of African Nutrition Societies, Prof. Tola Atinmo, said the school lunch programme had been in place in the United States as far back as 1946, saying the initiative had helped the country greatly.

Atinmo, who was part of a training programme on nutrition for school teachers in Lagos recently, advised teachers to encourage parents to always provide for their wards.

Commenting on the danger of neglecting children, the Executive Secretary of Lygel Youths and Leadership Initiatives, an Abuja-based non-governmental organisation, Mr Olalekan Oladapo, said it was unfortunate that in the midst of widespread corruption staring Nigerians in the face, many states could not introduce school feeding project on account of funding challenge.

Oladapo said his organisation would not hesitate to sue government, both at the federal and state levels, to ensure the initiative in Osun was emulated.

He said: “We need to encourage these kids to go to school these days, especially with the high rate of unemployment in the country.”

 

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