The Royal Audit Authority has pointed out some major shortcomings and deficiencies in the management of the school feeding program (SFP) which was failing to meet the dietary needs of the school children as developed and prescribed by the education ministry.
“Poor nutrition and nutrient deficiencies among children particularly school going children will impose substantial negative impact on physical growth, learning capacity and academic performance,” said the report which was conducted to ascertain whether the program was helping in improving nutrition and reducing nutrient deficiencies in school children.
The audit observed a lack of systematic monitoring system to review and ascertain the micronutrients deficiencies among schoolchildren. “Required interventions or appropriate actions by authorities cannot be taken if there are micronutrients deficiencies”, states the report.
The audit also pointed out the lack of strong quality control system in the school feeding commodity supply chain causing food items supplied to schools to be damaged within a short span of time. “Food prepared in visited schools looked unpalatable and unappetizing, discouraging school children to eat right quantity and thus resulting in fewer intakes of nutrients,” the audit report said.
Moreover the storage facilities, particularly for perishable items, were found to be inadequate leading to spoilage of vegetables with less shelf-lives thereby resulting in wastage as well as depriving schoolchildren of getting good nutrition.
The food commodity reports submitted by schools were also observed to be utilised ineffectively for preparing food release note for the supply of food items. “This has resulted in ordering surplus or short quantities of food items required by the schools which would lead to spoilage and wastage of resources,” the report states.
On the initiative taken by the department of school education in developing a handbook on school feeding management to improve SFP and the nutritional status of the schoolchildren, the RAA pointed out that the schools had developed just one option menu, which did not include a wide variety of foods adding that the frequency of meat served in schools is found to be less and the monotonous menu in schools is being served throughout the year.
RAA reasoned that such food practice would discourage schoolchildren to eat leading to nutrient deficiency.
However the introduction of centralized procurement of essential food items was found to be benefiting in standardizing school feeding with same ration scale and also benefitted far flung schools that do not have direct access to markets for getting commodities on time.