The impact of a country’s education system on the growth trajectory of its economy is typically a commendable success story, yet it can be overlooked for all the wrong reasons, whether for political satisfaction or mere ignorance.
The education sector has been proven overtime that it must be independently handled to ensure its sustainability and over the years, especially that of Ghana, may have proven this truth.
Like an overwhipped horse, conversations surrounding one of government’s numerous intervention in the country’s education sector, like the free senior high school programme, being the school feeding programme, has received mixed reaction, ambivalence and in more ways than one, been heavily criticized for its ‘unsustainable’ features considering various monetary constraints among others.
Furthermore, the question which has been on the lips of many is how government seems to enjoy and utterly believe in a program which arguably, the greater majority of Ghanaians and CSOs are calling for its review and possible scrapping until such a time the country has ample wherewithal to invest considerably in it. A glutton for punishment one would say?
For all intents and purposes, in several parts of the world, school meals and school feeding have been used as an effective mechanism for addressing child nutrition, educational enrolment and retention and hygiene issues. They have also effectively provided income-generation, employment creation and economic integration benefits to communities in which they have been implemented.
According to government, countries have experienced gender-related gains, reliable markets for farmers as well as innovations in agro-processing and it believes that Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) has the potential to contribute to the national social protection agenda in these ways.
The goal of the School Feeding Policy has also been to deliver a well-organized, decentralized intervention providing disadvantaged school children with nutritionally adequate, locally produced food thereby reducing poverty through improved household incomes and effective local economic development. The policy envisions rapid national socio-economic development achieved through a coordinated, integrated and accountable national school feeding programme.
However, despite the goodwill of the programme, it has encountered some problems, making people question its relevance to the students its been designed for, especially considering the various pleas by the caterers catering to the demands of the meals to be paid back their arrears and an increment in the cost of feeding a child.
Latest increment in school feeding stirs hornets nest
The Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Lariba Zuweira Abudu, in her last engagement with the press confirmed that the cost of feeding per head for a child per day under the School Feeding Programe is being increased from GHS0.97 to GHS1.20p, following various petitions by caterers due to the current economic situation.
The reception of the increment wasn’t exactly what government expected as caterers flatly rejected the proposed money. Considering it a slap in the face, the caterers described the increase as insufficient and unacceptable. Dorothy Ofori Sarpong, the spokesperson for the caterers in the Ashanti Region, expressed dissatisfaction with the Minister’s response to their concerns.
Among the various stakeholders within the education sector which has called on government to reconsider the school feeding programme is the Executive Director of Africa Education Watch (Eduwatch), Kofi Asare. In times past, he has expressed the need for the ministry of finance to revise its medium-term expenditure allocation to school feeding programme.
Mr Asare reckoned that the monies allocated to basic schools for feeding is woefully inadequate and must necessarily be increased. This, he explained, is to ensure an improvement in the quality of food being served students.
Mr Asare revealed that per the medium-term projection in the ministry of finance’s budget presented last year, an amount of GHC969 million is projected for allocation in 2024 but in 2025, it actually declines to about GHC770 million. With this, he stated that the medium-term framework of the IMF programme, has invariably led to some reduction in the budget for the school feeding programme for 2025.
Elaborating on this, Mr Asare indicated that per the projections of the ministry of finance, allocation to the Ghana School Feeding Programme, may reduce by 25% in 2025. The Eduwatch executive director highlighted that if the allocation for the school feeding programme is not reviewed, the quality of food that government expect the children to enjoy will continue to diminish. He lamented that the situation makes it difficult for CSOs like Eduwatch to monitor the quality of school feeding programme.
More recently, the Northern Network for Education Development (NNED), a network of Ghanaian Civil Society Organisations, called on the government to increase the feeding grant per child for basic schools under the School Feeding Programme.
It argued that the government’s proposed GH₵1.20 was not good enough for each child under the programme and was woefully inadequate to provide the quantity and quality of food desired, considering the economic difficulties in the country which had led to increase in prices of items including foodstuffs.
It said reviewing the programme and increasing the grant per child would ensure that quality food was prepared for the children while increasing the quantity of food served to promote satisfaction and improve academic work.
A national school feeding programme that achieves wins for local economic development, agricultural productivity, poverty reduction and social justice is possible. Moreover, one that covers far more children than it does presently will make a considerable difference and help to achieve the national socio-economic development characterised by improved nutrition for disadvantaged school children.
Nonetheless, does government once again have the heart to run this marathon without much physical exercise in terms of the needed capital and investment to ensure that this ultimately good programme succeeds and thrives in every possible way?