All school meals should be free for everyone, not just breakfast


All school meals should be free for everyone, not just breakfast
By Zan Azlee

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is now the acting Education Minister, has decided to continue with the free breakfast programme for national schools that was introduced by former minister Maszlee Malik.

It is no secret that Mahathir was not in favour of the programme previously.

However, he has said that priority will be given for the students who can’t afford breakfast.

He added that it wouldn’t be fair if every student were to receive the free breakfast because the wealthy and rich students would have already eaten at home.

Mahathir’s explanation may sound logical and reasonable.

It is true that one of the programme’s main intentions is to benefit the underprivileged.

Free meals in schools would definitely ease the burden of so many families.

Children who go to school hungry will not be able to focus on their studies and learning.

If food is already taken care of by the schools, then that is one less thing for the parents and the students to worry about. Taking away the worry and stress can really go a long way.

So I’m glad that Mahathir (below) has decided to at least let that slide. The B40 group in Malaysia is a significant group and the free breakfast programme will definitely benefit them.

But that is not the programme’s only objective.

What is the purpose of the national school system if not to nurture and develop a younger Malaysian generation that will be well educated as well as being sensitive and civic-minded.

Why do our students wear uniforms to school? It is to instil discipline and enforce uniformity among students.

It is also to ensure that everyone in the school is taught that equality is important.

There will be no competition as to who is wearing more expensive branded jeans or sneakers.

In theory, this is done to ensure no division occurs in national schools, especially between the haves and have-nots.

The syllabus is standardised, the textbooks and workbooks are the same, the resources in all the schools are the same (and if it isn’t, the government needs to make it consistent), and the quality of the teachers are meant to be the same.

So when rolling out the free breakfast programme, it should also be the same for all.

It shouldn’t matter as to the income and wealth of the students’ families.

We don’t make wealthy families pay more school fees than those with less money. So why should the provision of free breakfast be any different?

Yes, it does sound like a very socialist idea, but put that aside and think about it in a more holistic view.

Think of the community, society and humanity as a whole.

The free breakfast programme ensures a healthy and nutritious meal for everyone, including teachers. We can’t negate the health benefits that provides, and how that can affect learning.

The fact that there is a daily session where the students get to sit together for a meal also provides a very good opportunity to instil good social skills.

If taken advantage of properly, it can be used to great benefit when it comes to national harmony, mutual understanding and just common human decency that can lead to societal cohesion.

Having free meals in school also contributes to a complete educational environment or ecosystem that will benefit the students.

It will make schools a comfortable and safe space where students have a home away from home.

It will provide parents with a sense of ease and relief knowing their children are in such an environment.

There are many examples around the world, where free meal programmes have reaped tremendous benefits such as Japan’s school lunch programme and also in South Korea.

The United Kingdom’s free school meals programme currently serves underprivileged students but research has been done and efforts being put in place to expand it to all.

If anything at all, the free breakfast programme shouldn’t just be for breakfast.

It should be expanded to all meals during a school session.

If cost is a concern, of which I am sure it is, then let it be a priority.

I don’t mind cutting corners on other things, such as subsidising national airline carriers, if the budget can be put to better use elsewhere.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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