PETALING JAYA: Nutritionists have lauded the Education Ministry’s encouragement to parents and teachers to provide free food for poor pupils in smaller schools without canteens as part of the Supplementary Food Programme (RMT).Nutrition Society of Malaysia president Dr Tee E. Siong said it is good to get parents involved as it will increase their awareness on what is important and healthy for their children.
“Even canteen operators will become more aware of preparing healthy meals for pupils through this programme, ” he said.
Tee was commenting on the much talked-about free breakfast programme for primary school pupils that has been introduced as an improved version of the RMT. The first phase has begun in 100 schools nationwide.
Education director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim encouraged parent-teacher associations (PTAs), teachers, parents and other parties in smaller schools that do not have canteens to prepare food for the pupils.
When asked to comment on the menu, Tee said it is important to rotate menus and ensure portions are appropriate for the right age groups and the food provided is balanced.
The improved version of the RMT has meals from over 20 menus prepared by school canteens, based on recommendations from the Health Ministry.
The food and drinks provided include nasi lemak, fruit, bihun goreng, milk and Milo.
“There are healthy ways of preparing bihun goreng, ” said Tee.
“The egg in the nasi lemak is hard-boiled, so there is no issue here. Eggs are generally wholesome and healthy, and it’s good for children to consume eggs.
“People are more conscious today, this is why parents’ involvement is important because it encourages shared responsibility between the school and parents.
“School meals can be a platform to talk about healthy food and to create awareness among parents and PTAs, ” he said, adding that it is equally important for nutritionists to be involved.
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim welcomed Habibah’s statement, saying parents’ assistance in the preparation of food is good as parental involvement in schools has always been encouraged.
“Ensure cleanliness is priority and wastage is minimised. Teachers can provide minimal supervision. “It is normal for parents to support teachers in school, ” she said.
Describing it as a noble idea, Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin, however, questioned whether such a move is practical.
“Will these groups need to get approval from the Health Ministry or local government to ensure the food served is hygienic and healthy?
“If there are such requirements, it may not be workable, ” he said.
Mak said the issue with the RMT is the stigma around poor children.
“Teachers and pupils have said that many of the poor pupils do not eat the food provided for them because the stigma and inferiority complex of being poor discourages them from eating the free food.
“So instead of wasting it, the leftover food would be passed on to other pupils and even teachers, ” he said, recommending that the pupils be given cash vouchers instead.
“Let them eat and drink happily like other children, ” he added.
Muhd Amir Naufal Riswaazril, a a pupil at SK Seri Suria, Kuala Lumpur, said the food under the improved RMT is tastier.
The third of five siblings said he felt more excited to attend school.
“Both my parents don’t work.
“More programmes like this should be carried out because it helps those in need.
“I want to be a firefighter when I grow up, ” added Muhd Amir, a Year Six pupil.
A total of 26 pupils from the school were selected to receive free food under the current RMT programme.
The school previously had 18 pupils benefiting from the programme.
Each pupil was greeted with nasi lemak and a piece of fruit neatly packed in a plastic container, along with a cup of Milo.
The containers were labelled with each pupil’s name.
The RMT was initially limited to those from households below the national poverty line, with an allocation of RM289mil last year.
In 2018,489,117 schoolchildren in 7,316 schools across the country received the free meals.
This year, inclusive of the new RMT phase, a total of 517,000 pupils will benefit from the programme.
Year Six pupil Nurain Sarah Abdul Jalil usually gulps down a glass of water before heading to school to have her breakfast.
“I don’t eat breakfast at home because I usually rush to school, ” she said.
Her mother earns a living by transporting students to and from school.
Nurain, the fourth of five siblings, aspires to join the police force.
Her younger sibling in Year Three also benefits from RMT.
Nurain’s schoolmate Nurin Wafa Yufeera Mohd Yusof, 11, said she skips breakfast at home.
“I want to get to school quickly, so I eat my breakfast here in the canteen. I’m so happy to get this breakfast!” she said cheerfully.
Nurin is the eldest of three children. Her mother works as a clerk.
SK Seri Suria headmistress Rokiah Zakaria said the school would continue to expand the programme to benefit more than the current 26 pupils.Subaa Nadarajan, a teacher from the school, said six teachers were involved in the programme.
“Every day, each of us are in charge of ensuring that the kids have their meals.
“I feel happy serving my pupils food in the morning because it makes them happy.
“RMT is a good programme, but of course it would be better if all pupils were provided with meals in the morning because most of them don’t have their breakfast before coming to school.
“It’s not just the underprivileged pupils who don’t eat in the morning, ” she said, adding that well-fed pupils were more active during lessons.
She disagreed with the argument that the programme would burden teachers, adding that teachers had to arrive at school early anyway.
To avoid wastage, Subaa said, absent pupils’ food would be given to other deserving children in the school.
“The plastic containers are kept in the canteen and cared for by the canteen operators, ” she added.