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Reaching poor learners - one plate at a time

Written by Bathandwa Mbola
Learners at Tane Primary School in Hammanskraal, would make former President Nelson Mandela proud.

Government’s National School Nutrition Programme offers hot meals to needy learners, ensuring they no longer attend school on an empty stomach.They are among the more than eight million learners across the country who are being fed at school each day thanks to a programme launched by former President Mandela during his term in office.

One hundred days after he took office, Madiba launched a number of development programmes to kick-start the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP).

The RDP’s main aim was to develop previously disadvantaged communities. The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was one of those programmes.

Back then, there was a nutritional and educational crisis in South African schools, especially in rural areas where school attendance was low.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the face of the education system across the country has changed. To date, more than eight million learners in 21 467 public schools are now benefitting from the programme and more than 54 000 volunteers prepare and serve the meals daily.

The NSNP has been transformed from a simple cold meal to a daily hot meal. At selected schools it benefits all learners, not just the poorest.

The programme was expanded in 2009 to include secondary schools.

The grant for the programme has also increased by R266. 6 million in 2013/14 to R5.173 billion and the Department of Basic Education estimates that it will reach R5.704 billion in 2015/16. In Gauteng alone, the programme provided nutrition to 1 051 362 learners and in the past year it was successfully extended to all 1 256 no-fee schools in the province.

Feeding learners

One of these schools is Tane Primary, situated in a semi-rural area just outside Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria. About 900 of the 1 010 learners are at school early each morning, eager not only to get an education but, for some, their only meal of the day.

The learners make sure they are at school before 7am so that they can get their share of soft porridge in the morning.

Some days they arrive at school hungry.

“I sometimes get dizzy because I am hungry but the food allows me to concentrate in class so I can learn,” said one of the learners.

Volunteers who prepare the meals are the unemployed parents of learners.

Volunteer Helen Kekana, 33, said they arrive at the school as early as 6.30am to start preparing because the learners are always early.

“Raining or not, the children line up. The meals have improved their love for education and plays a big role in the way they perform,” said Kekana.

The school supplements its NSNP grant with a vegetable garden. This provides needy learners with food parcels and the children gain skills in growing crops.

Kekana says the programme has also created jobs. “Before this I was unemployed, but now I have a stipend of R840 which I can use to take care of my family.”

Principal George Maremo says the NSNP has had a positive impact on the lives of learners but there is still room for improvement.

“There has been an increase in the school attendance and concentration levels and the social and physical participation of learners in school-related activates has improved. Over the years, absenteeism has dropped.

“However, the programme also has a few areas where it can improve. For example, providing kitchen facilities and other equipment would go a long way and it will help us monitor the learners better,” he said.

Despite these glitches, the faces of learners at Tane Primary School beam the importance of this nutrition programme.