Repairs more urgent than free school breakfasts: NGO
Published on: Sunday, October 13, 2019
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KOTA KINABALU: The free breakfast programme proposal for primary school children should be reviewed thoroughly before its full implementation in January 2020, according to the Community Empowerment Initiative Sabah (CEI). 

The civil society organisation formed under the Trustees (Incorporation) Ordinance of Sabah, noted that the programme inspired by Japanese schools is good but there are certain concerns which must be addressed. 

The free breakfast programme which will cost between RM800 million to RM1.67 billion was recently announced by Education Minister, Maszlee Malik. 

Maszlee said the aim was to ensure that pupils have a nutritious meal to start their day, provide the opportunity for teachers and students to bond when having breakfast together and to improve racial unity among the students as well as with teachers.

“We are constantly told that our nation has serious financial constraints. If this is so, we have to get our priorities right in spending,” read CEI’s statement. 

It questioned if all 2.7 million primary school children need assistance with breakfast, noting that it certainly isn’t the case. 

“There is a substantial number of families who do not need the government to provide breakfast for their children. 

“These children can bring their own food to school and be taught and encouraged to eat and share. Food science should be emphasised in schools and parents can be encouraged to prepare healthy meals.

On top of that, unlike Japanese homogeneous society, we are a multicultural society who have different preferences for meals,” it said. 

It also noted that many have different requirements – vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, etc. All of these factors need to be taken into account. For those who cannot afford, yes, the government should assist.

It stated that there is already a RM289mil annual budget in place under a food scheme for students from underprivileged families in all schools where free meals and milk is supposed to be provided. 

“How successful has this programme been? This has to be evaluated and results reported before embarking on a new programme with an explosive budget. Especially for the poor students in the deep interiors of Sabah and Sarawak, have our pupils benefitted from this programme?

“In short, spending on those who are not in need is a waste of our resources,” it stated. 

While in West Malaysia, people complain of schools without air-conditioning or fans, in Sabah we have schools without power and water supply and hundreds of dilapidated buildings which need urgent repairs. 

The Sabah Education Ministry has estimated that Sabah needs more than RM3 billion to repair 587 dilapidated schools and this includes 91 schools which have been condemned as unsafe. This is an urgent need.

However, recently, it was announced that Sabah will get only RM78 million to repair 19 dilapidated schools for its first phase for replacement schools. And in the Budget 2020, RM783 million was announced to restore dilapidated schools – this budget is for the whole nation.

“While RM1.67 billion can be allocated for free breakfast for all students, only RM783 million is set aside for urgent basic building facilities and amenities?

“As to how much will be allocated to Sabah and Sarawak, we have to wait and see,” it stated. 

The statement pointed out that the breakfast for all to improve racial unity is flimsy reasoning. 

“Let’s not scratch the surface in addressing the elephant in the room. While we have political leaders calling for the triumph of one race over the rest, how does breakfasts of 7 to 12-year olds catch up for a cure for national unity?

“Seriously, our curriculum, including our co-curriculum and extra-curriculum activities need a revamp. We need subjects on culture and unity and practical focused activities towards this goal. But let’s start with our history books, they need a total overhaul. Be honest with our history and anthropology and we will be on the right track,” it said. 



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