Ibrahim Jalloh is a member of the President’s Recovery Priorities’ delivery team. Growing up in Bombali in the mid-70s, he walked three miles to school and back, carrying a plate, his alpha pencil and ‘foo foo’ book. Of those three items, his plate was prized above all else, because it guaranteed him a hot meal at lunch time. “The food was a major catalyst. For a good number of us, it was the magnet that kept us within the school system,” he remembers.
He is not alone. Among Sierra Leone’s older generations, there are a fair few who freely admit that school feeding played an important role in keeping them in primary school.
School feeding has been part of Sierra Leone’s educational landscape for over 50 years, but over the years has been mainly offered by various NGOs and charities, and only in selected chiefdoms. The national school feeding programme has been a major objective of the President’s Recovery Priorities and in the next school year 1.2 million school children in government and government-assisted schools will receive a meal at school on two days each week.
By taking a decentralised approach that encourages local procurement, the new twice weekly school feeding programme has several advantages over its predecessors. It will benefit children’s learning whilst creating jobs and increasing agricultural opportunities for local communities. School feeding committees will be set up with respresentation from local and traditional government as well as the relevant schools. They will receive cash transfers from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) to buy locally grown produce. The committee will be responsible for procurement, storage, cooking and serving the food to pupils.
Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Deputy Minister, MEST says that school feeding can improve attendance and retention rates, and make children more receptive to learning. “Hungry children can’t learn. By providing them with a midday meal, we can keep them in school and they are more likely to be alert and focused on learning. In September, when the national school feeding starts, we should be able to see more attentive children who get better results at school.”
The success of the programme will be tracked by looking at school attendance and improved learning outcomes.