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Dhaka Tribune

Primary schoolers deprived of free meals since January

Many low-income families rely on the school feeding program to provide meals to children

Update : 21 Mar 2022, 11:30 AM

Low-income families across the country are struggling because the school feeding program has reportedly been in suspension for nearly two months.

The school feeding program has been a major source of nutrition for primary schoolers from underprivileged families in the country since it was launched in 2010. Even though primary schools were closed for a long period during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government continued the feeding program during the closure in the public interest.

However, the program has been suspended since January.

Teachers and education experts said the program was a major driver of attendance at primary schools, and there might be an increase in dropouts if it was not restarted soon. 

Rasheda K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said the project had been a blessing for children in underprivileged areas and it must not be stopped for a significant period of time.

Program stalled by paperwork

The tenure of the project was extended by six months from December 2021 till June this year, but it remains suspended at present as necessary paperwork is yet to be completed.

In mid-January this year, the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education sent a letter to the Director General of the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) on the extension of the program. Subsequently, the DPE forwarded the letter to the Planning Ministry to finalize the allocation for the extended project. 

The allocation is yet to be finalized, though.

Anisul Islam, deputy secretary (Plan-1) of the ministry, confirmed that the project had been extended till June 30. DPE officials said they had been asked to run the program using the Tk341.9 crore that remained unspent from previous allocations.

After the proposal has been finalized, it will be sent to the Finance Ministry for the funds to be allocated and tenders to be invited for implementation.

Sector insiders said a lack of coordination between officials of the DPE and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education was behind the delay.

Repeated reworks

The school feeding program was designed to provide food assistance in the form of micronutrient-fortified biscuits to pre-primary and primary school children in poverty-stricken areas to prevent dropouts and malnutrition.

The program was officially introduced in 1993 and provided rice, pulses, and cash to students. In 2002, the government took up a large-scale school feeding program.

The program was reworked and expanded to the national level with the support of the WFP in 2010. This program continued till 2014. 

Between 2014 to 2021, the project was extended multiple times. So far, the primary and mass education ministry has spent Tk4,991 crore on the feeding program from 2010 to 2021.

Following the success of the distribution of biscuits, the National School Meal Policy-2019 was formulated to provide lunch to primary students across the country.

As part of the policy, the ECNEC submitted the Primary School Meal Project to the government on June 1 last year.

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