A loaf of Gardenia Classic White Bread at any convenient stores or supermarket cost RM2.40.
Perhaps students in schools that qualify for the Supplementary Food Programme or Rancangan Makanan Tambahan (RMT) should be served an entire loaf of white bread, and they would be much better off than the meals that they currently get.
Poor students under RMT today are said to have to make do with fried rice prepared under programme that only lasts a few mouthfuls.
The next question that should be asked is that, why are there food items such as sausages, nuggets and fried fishballs available in school canteens?
Even adults know better than to feed themselves processed food where sausages and nuggets are often food items to avoid.
A long standing problem of meals that are way below the value of RM2.50 – the per student budget which is allocated by the Education Ministry – it was cited in the Auditor-General’s Report 2009 where the RMT in several schools provided students with only two slices of white bread with margarine instead of sardine sandwiches they were supposed to get.
Later in 2013, in another isolated case was there students in a school in Kuching said that food was insufficient while some who qualify the programme were ignored.
And more recent photographs of white rice with a cut piece of sausage went viral, which only fuelled people’s anger, but that was corrected later to say that that was an addition to the nasi goreng, watermelon slice and Milo drink by the meal contractor.
The RMT was set up to help improve the nutritional level of poor pupils so that they can focus their attention on teaching and learning in school. It is supposed to improve poor students’ physical growth, mental health and general health in addition to helping them benefit from a balanced diet.
If sausages and fried rice are deemed as healthy and is being served to students regularly, the Education Ministry better start looking up in the dictionary what the word actually means.
Says parent, Lili Hanisah, the diet served in school is very unhealthy and that is why she chose to cook for her children.
“I am watching their sugar intake, and the only way I can keep them away from it is to make them bring their own meal from home.
“I’m not extremely strict, there days that I will allow them to buy a meal from the canteen when I’m caught up at work. But otherwise, I won’t think the school should be selling carbonated drinks as part of a school canteen menu,” says Lili.
The budget of RM2.50 per student is more than enough to get the primary school students a better menu than “fastfood” items.
Alex Tan, a parent who has a 12-year-old says his son would spend on fried rice that cost RM1.50, or nasi lemak with a piece of fried chicken that costs RM2 or RM1 on roti canai.
“Other smaller items such as doughnut would be RM0.60, nuggets at RM0.50 or RM0.80 for three pieces and Vitagen (cultured milk drink) for RM1,” says Tan.
As for Lina Ahmad, her child spends RM1.50 on fried rice with a fried egg, Milo for RM0.50 and sometimes would spend RM3 on chicken rice.
“I usually prepare food for them to bring to school, but I don’t mind if they are hungry and end up buying food from school.
“But food that is served should not be so expensive and should also meet a certain quality standard. Even as adults when we eat out we would try our best to find a balanced diet what more for children who are growing up,” says Lina.
Another parent, Christine Tan, she recalls her schooling days where they look forward to a feast during recess time as the food served at the canteen is what they would be able to find at hawkers.
“Our parents then didn’t have to worry that we ate nonsense in school because the cooks prepare very good meals. You can get a plate of chicken rice at RM1.50, or a bowl of curry noodles at the same price.
“If you want a less filling meal, there are clear soup noodles and sometimes we even have asam laksa – all for less than RM2.
“Though this is a scenario that goes way back, schools should try to maintain food quality,” says Tan.
As the RMT by the Education Ministry started in 1979, one wonders if the ministry would not have perfected a good and balanced menu by now?
Whenever a complain surfaces, blames regarding good quality are pointed at RMT programme contractors assigned to schools.
Even if a contract is given through open tender and with an agreement which states the quality and quantity of the food which the contractor must comply with, the Education Ministry obviously needs to up their game in monitoring or following through.
Soo Wern Jun