Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Free breakfast in the School rooms-The pros and cons

The subject of midday meals programs in schools world over is a hotly debated one with some favoring it while a few oppose the exercise as a fruitless one. As with any other issue there are always pros and cons and it is not easy to come to any categorical conclusion regarding the impact of such social welfare programs. Ostensibly free meals provided in schools are supposed to to improve the attendance especially that  of children from the low income families and many studies have supported such a hypothesis in many countries though the result is not uniform. These ready to eat meals are generally supplied outside the class premises at a common time and at a designated place within the schools. While the foods are brought by approved caterers or cooked locally. In developed countries there are established cafeterias in some schools where kids congregate to pick up their foods to be eaten at designated times. A new issue has cropped up now in the Us where such programs have been operating for a long time. Some social activists feel that meals must be served within the class room and must be eaten by one and all irrespective of their economic status. According to them such an arrangement serves to help the kids to concentrate more in the class room resulting in better academic performance. Here again such a conclusion is not shared universally raising doubts about implementing such a policy without assessing whether it is true . Here is a take on this new development in school feeding and the feasibility of making change over in the school meals programs.

"In an effort to increase the number of children eating breakfast, more schools are serving it in the classroom. In a national survey by the Food Research and Action Center, 50 of 62 districts polled offered breakfast in class or had outside carts with food items that children could bring into the classroom. Yet the initiative has opponents in districts like Los Angeles Unified, where some teachers and parents argue that low-income children in danger of falling behind academically are getting less class time and food is being thrown away. The federal school breakfast program started in 1966, but for decades, participation lagged behind the number of students eating a free or reduced-price lunch. Schools that offered breakfast typically served it before school in the cafeteria. Not all children could get to school early, and of those that did, many opted to play outside. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses schools for each free or reduced price meal served to low-income students. So non-participation means losing potentially millions in revenue. Looking at these factors, food policy advocates began encouraging districts to consider an alternative approach. Studies haven't shown a link between eating breakfast and academic performance, but supporters say there is a common-sense element to the initiative. The day before a big test, for example, parents are routinely reminded to make sure their children eat a good breakfast. Anecdotally, some districts report improved attendance and fewer visits to the school nurse. Charles Basch, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College, said school breakfast is one of several factors with an effect on a child's ability to learn. "There's not just one thing that's going to be a magic bullet," he said. Instead of sending children to the cafeteria, students or volunteers bring crates of food to the classroom. Each district determines what food to serve, but all meals must meet federal nutrition guidelines. A typical meal could include a piece of fruit, cereal, milk and orange juice, coffee cake or a breakfast sandwich. Ideally, the food can be served and eaten in 10 minutes. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate a lesson or other school tasks, such as taking attendance, while students eat. This can be a challenge, especially for teachers of younger students. Supporters say serving breakfast to only some students adds to the stigma associated with a free meal and discourages those who need it from eating. The number of children from low-income families has increased from 32 percent in 1989 to 51 percent in 2013, according to the Southern Education Foundation. For the most vulnerable students, the food they get at school might be their most substantial meal of the day. Where breakfast is being served in class, participation is significantly higher than in schools where it's offered in the cafeteria. Parents and teachers have objected where it's been introduced as a universal policy. Opponents say breakfast in the classroom takes away class time from low-income students who have lower math and reading performance."

Whether such a change will really improve the academic performance or not, it is beset with some logistical problems which ought to be addressed before thrusting the same across the board in all schools. Scientifically serving pre prepared foods within a class room is wrong from hygienic and sanitation angles and this cannot be an effective substitute for a well designed functionally efficient cafeteria. It is beyond any body's comprehension as to how a kid can divide his attention between the food he has in his hand and the subject matter being taught by the teacher. Besides the eating habits of different children coming from different economic and cultural milieu can vary enormously making it difficult to compress the eating time to 10 minutes as being proposed. Cafeteria is the best place to serve the food, especially hot ones or moist ones, as there will be proper seating arrangements and frequent cleaning of the place by the canteen staff and also having facilities for drinking water and hand washing, before and after eating. While eating together is a socially satisfying exercise, compelling every student to eat what he does not like is a violation of the basic principle of "inviolable eating right" of a citizen. The issue becomes more complicated because the food suppliers have a vested interest in boosting the number of students served in the school in order to make more bucks in the process. Serving of foods in the schools, whatever be the economic justification,may be uncalled for in spite of many countries embracing the practice and it is better that the policy is revisited for better delivery of  nutritious foods to deserving and vulnerable children through alternate channels or programs.   .


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