Huge blow to pupils dependent on nutrition programme

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Image: File

The 1.5 million Eastern Cape pupils who depend on the school nutrition programme for daily meals will go unfed during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Education minister Angie Motshekga said on Thursday her department had abandoned its school nutrition programme — which feeds close to 10-million pupils nationally — during the national lockdown.

To this end, Motshekga said she had handed over the school nutrition function to social development minister Lindiwe Zulu to run — if she could.

Eastern Cape department of education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said: “The school nutrition programme doesn't normally operate during school holidays. However, now that we're faced with these trying times it would be impossible to make provisions outside school times to feed the millions of learners. Many of the service providers who are involved in the nutrition programme have closed their businesses because of the lockdown.

“The money for the nutrition programme is also decentralised to the schools so it would be a difficult mission. We welcome the social support through food parcels from our government entities and indigent grants that won't fall away during this time from the department of social development.”  

The principal of Mvume Springs Primary School in Port St Johns, Saziso Mfundisi, whose school depends on the nutrition programme, said the minister's announcement was concerning as it would negatively affect pupils.

“The school nutrition programme helps better our learners' concentration levels, allowing them to perform at their best. The children are already struggling to eat at home while some households aren't able to afford mielie meal and sour milk, which is a basic meal for many. This means that things will be difficult for our learners at home. At times we even have children who don't attend the school and past pupils, who come to the school during those meal times. This has a much broader effect, “said Mfundisi.

Motshekga said when it came to learning and teaching continuing during the lockdown, the department had everything under control.

Among other measures it has put in place is broadcasting lessons via SABC TV, a dedicated learning channel to be opened on DStv and another on eTV's OpenviewHD.

Some lessons will be provided via the 18 SABC radio stations as well as all community radio stations, she added.

Motshekga said some lessons would be available online and electronically accessed for free courtesy of all the major mobile networks in the country, namely Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C.

The department would also promote “learning for enjoyment” to keep pupils busy beyond academic reading.

Dale College principal Garth Shaw said he had encouraged  teachers at the school to remain in contact with pupils on virtual platforms.

“Many teachers have opened up WhatsApp groups with their pupils to share worksheets and other learning material that could assist the pupils during this time of lockdown. We're very impressed with how the department has jumped into gear and they're producing a lot of good material,” Shaw said.

“Our feeling is to promote that and encourage our children to do that. We also can't assume that all our learners are able to connect electronically and work remotely. So for learners who can keep ahead with the work, it makes the catch-up responsibility much lighter.”