Benefitting from the food plan

Let’s eat: SK Seri Suria pupils having their breakfast under the revised RMT programme before school starts in the morning. Education director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim visited the school, which was one of the 100 schools selected for the first phase of the improved RMT programme. SYAMIMI ZAINAL/ THE STAR

It’s been three weeks since the improved version of the Supplementary Food Programme (RMT) was introduced. People’s Housing Project (PPR) residents association chairmen speak to StarEdu on how the free food programme has helped the children in their schools and areas, while psychologists weigh the possible psychological effect on the pupils involved.

IT hasn’t been a month since the first phase of the newly improved Supplementary Food Programme (RMT) was introduced but SK Seri Suria, Kuala Lumpur headmistress can already see an improvement in her pupils.

Excitement in her voice, Rokiah Zakaria said her school is currently analysing her pupils’ attendance, the outcome of their classroom exercises and their achievement levels over the past month.

“Our pupils are more active during co curricular activities, teachers have reported that they are more attentive during lessons and that these kids don’t come in sleepy.

“The programme is a good initiative; pupils come to school eagerly and they don’t waste their food, contrary to popular opinion.

“Parents know of its benefit to their children so more have been requesting us to include their kids in the programme, ” she added.

First implemented in 1979, the first phase of the improved RMT began in 100 schools covering 4,000 pupils nationwide.

SK Seri Suria is one of the 100 schools selected for the launch.

The older RMT programme focused on pupils who belonged to the hardcore-poor category, disabled pupils and pupils in Orang Asli schools.

Now, more students are eligible for free food under the programme.

Education director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim said the ministry’s priority is the hardcore poor and poor pupils, and there are plans to expand the programme to other schools in the country, depending on approval for expansion and allocation.

“We have determined that these schools have the most number of poor pupils and are located close to the Housing Assistance Programme (PPRT), where 90% of the pupils are from, ” she said during the launch.

The programme has meals from over 20 menus prepared by school canteens, based on recommendations from the Health Ministry, which includes items such as nasi lemak, fruits, bihun goreng, milk and Milo.

People’s Housing Project (PPR) Kampung Muhibbah residents association chairmen Rosli Misanti said the 26 SK Seri Suria pupils selected for the programme seem more keen to go to school.

“The children are happier and are more cheerful.

“This programme is a blessing for these families as many of the parents who live in this area earn meager income by working as cleaners, lorry drivers and guards.

“Most of them can only afford to give their children pocket money worth between RM1 and RM2.

“These kids leave their homes at 6am and go to school hungry. Breakfast is important because it provides them sustenance and energy, ” he shared.

The RMT reduces parents’ burden, Rosli said, adding that he noticed how more families looked relieved as their children were selected for the programme.

The school previously had 18 pupils benefiting from the RMT.

PPR Pinggiran Bukit Jalil residents association chairmen Nazaria Othman is looking forward to the expansion of the programme to all primary schools in the country.

Many of the families who live in her area are single mothers, with some who have more than five children to care for.

“It’s a really good programme because it alleviates the poor’s burden.”

PPR Gombak Setia residents association chairmen Sazali Azman Atar shares that the school in the area, SK Setapak Indah, has been a part of the existing RMT programme.

“We can see the development and difference in the children who receive RMT.

“When we observe and compare them to how they were before, they are so much more active, especially in their cocurricular activities, after receiving the free food under the programme, ” he noted.

Sazali however also said that providing poor pupils with nutritious food is one step towards attracting them to school and ensuring they are more attentive during their lessons.

As most PPRs are located in socio-economically poor backgrounds, he said children often fall to bad vices early on.

“Such initiatives by the government are good but we must remember that many of these children don’t come from good family backgrounds.

“We hope the Government will continue providing the pupils with nutritious meals for them to develop healthy minds and bodies; the programme provides assistance to them.

“Of course it’s better to focus RMT for the poor but it will be better if it was expanded to all pupils, regardless of their economic background as the Government should take care of it’s people’s welfare.” While schools and PPR representatives have welcomed the improved RMT, some have questioned it’s psychological effect on the pupils involved.

SK Taman Megah Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) chairman Rodney Teoh believes the targeted approach may cause the poor pupils to feel belittled due to their socio-economic status.

“If it’s part of a school programme, it should be given to all pupils, ” he said.

While the RMT is a timely initiative, Malaysian Mental Health Association president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj feels the programme should have a more universal approach.

Programmes like the RMT, he said, have had successful results in other countries but attributed these successes to its approach of distributing food to every pupil in the school or particular class.

“You cannot have a system where only the poor are singled out for food distribution as it will have a negative psychological impact on students, especially if they are primary school children who are more prone to feel embarrassed, isolated and subject to taunts.

“In most parts of the world, this system has been introduced as an inclusive approach, so why the selective approach here?” he questioned.

Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) hosted a discussion in August last year titled ‘School Feeding Programmes and Other Mass Nutrition Initiatives’.

The discussion proposed school feeding as a policy option to improve the country’s nutritional value.

The proposal is based on the ‘Addressing Malnutrition in Malaysia’ report by public health researcher and former KRI visiting senior fellow Prof Dr Wan Manan Wan Muda, KRI senior advisor Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram and KRI research associate Tan Zhai Gen.

This report, KRI said, provides an overview of Malaysia’s nutrition status and policy options to address both micronutrient deficiencies and diet-related non-communicable diseases.

“The proposed school lunch programme tackles three challenges for schools and communities; ensuring food security, especially food safety, improving nutrition in schools and communities, improving student performance and promoting equality.

“The Education Ministry, Health Ministry, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry and other relevant government ministries and agencies must work together to ensure the food provided is safe, healthy, nutritious and improves farmers’ welfare, ” it added.

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