KUALA LUMPUR: An additional 4,000 pupils are being served free food in primary schools following the launch of the much talked-about programme by the Education Ministry.
The latest is an improved version of the existing Supplementary Food Programme (RMT), which is already benefiting 513,000 pupils nationwide.
The programme now boasts meals from over 20 menus prepared by school canteens, based on recommendations from the Health Ministry.
The first phase of the newly improved RMT – which was first implemented in 1979 – began in 100 schools covering 4,000 pupils nationwide yesterday.
More students are now eligible for free food under the RMT.
The menu includes items such as nasi lemak, fruits, bihun goreng, milk and Milo.
For schools without canteens, Education director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim encouraged parent-teacher associations, teachers, parents and other parties to prepare the food for the pupils under the programme.
Parent-teacher associations and nutritionists have described the move as noble, but some people have questioned whether it is practical for parents to prepare food.
The ministry’s priority is the hardcore poor and poor pupils, Habibah said, adding that there are plans to expand the programme to other schools in the country, depending on approval for expansion and allocation.
“We hope the RMT will still be carried out (in smaller schools) despite the absence of a canteen, ” Habibah said after visiting SK Seri Suria here, one of the 100 schools selected for the launch.
In August, former education minister Dr Maszlee Malik announced that all 2.7 million primary pupils in government and government-aided primary schools for both morning and afternoon sessions would enjoy free food under the government’s breakfast programme, with an allocation of between RM800mil and RM1.67bil.
The announcement triggered a heated debate among Malaysians who wondered whether the country could afford this, and whether the allocation could be put to better use.
After Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad asked Maszlee to step down as minister early this month, the Prime Minister, who took over as acting Education Minister, said the programme will be targeted at underprivileged pupils only and that it is unfair for the government to provide free breakfast to those who can afford it.
Habibah said there are teachers in charge who will help in the day-to-day implementation of the RMT to encourage pupils to finish their food.
“This programme doesn’t just focus on the nutritional intake of the food, but also nurtures values such as good eating habits, practising a healthy lifestyle and cleaning up after eating.
“The food is prepared based on the Health Ministry’s recommendations to ensure it contains suitable nutrition and calorie content for pupils, ” she said.
She said pupils who come after the stipulated time in the morning, between 7am and 7.30am, will be given their food during recess.
Afternoon session pupils, she added, will receive their food between 12.30pm and 2pm.
“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.
“However, we also select pupils and schools based on household income and distribute forms to parents because we cannot just feed them without consent from the parents.
“The form also informs the school whether their child is allergic to certain types of food and if they have any diet restrictions, ” she said.
The older RMT programme focused on pupils who belonged to the hardcore-poor category, disabled pupils and pupils in Orang Asli schools.
But this time around, based on the national poverty line, she said the ministry is expanding the programme to poor pupils (B40 low-income families) to benefit more individuals.
“The programme was also commonly carried out during recess but now, we’re doing it in the morning before school starts.
“This is so that pupils are well fed and are able to focus during their lessons.
“We hope this will improve their learning outcomes, ” she said.