Children and the Ang Seng primary school in Takeo province make the most of their free breakfast.
N experimental free breakfast program aimed at boosting school attendance has succeeded
in swelling enrollments from 50 students to 70-to-80 students per teacher and is
encouraging parents to enrol under-age children at schools where the breakfast program
At the 900-pupil Ang Seng school in the Bati district of Takeo, 14-year-old Yam Sitia,
finishing a plate of rice at his desk on a recent morning , told the Post that he
and his two siblings changed schools when they heard about the breakfast. He said
he didn't know yet whether eating before classes will make him a better student,
but he wouldn't be missing any school.
The school switching is a side effect of an experimental breakfast program begun
last year by the Education Quality Improvement Project (EQIP), funded by the World
Food Program and the World Bank, for 37,000 pupils at 64 primary schools in Takeo
in an effort to get more children to attend school, stay longer hours and pay better
Now the program is being expanded to about 200 schools in Takeo, Kampot and Kampong
Cham. Its spread has been slowed because many schools haven't yet opened due to flooding,
but by the end of the year 100,000 to 120,000 children are expected to be attending
schools with breakfast.
Despite the school switching, the program is much heralded by its supporters.
Kampuchean Action For Primary Education , a local NGO, is taking the idea a step
further with a program offering quarterly take-home rations of food to the families
of girls in grades 4, 5, and 6 in an effort to cut the dropout rate among girls.
Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, hopes to see the breakfast program expanded
in the next two years to clusters of schools it supports in Cambodia.
"It is very expensive but it helps the children, so we consider it good, irrespective
of the cost," said Unicef education project officer Nabendra Dahal.
Vin McNamara, chief technical adviser for EQIP, said at $20 per pupil per year, breakfast
is a costly, but worthwhile option.
"At the moment it is establishing a model," McNamara said. "One cannot
see it being sustained nationwide forever, but there's an argument for sustaining
it in certain clusters."
McNamara conceded that classroom overcrowding in schools where the breakfast program
is operating is a problem, but added that classroom overcrowding was universal due
to the Cambodian Government's devotion of only 8 percent of the national budget to
Pledges by the Government to raise the expenditure to 15 percent have gone unfulfilled.
More schools are needed, but the biggest problem educators face is the quality of
teaching, he said. Teachers earn a Government salary of only 80,000 riel ($20) a
month, compelling them to moonlight at other jobs to make a living.
The school feeding program doesn't aim to change all this, but the sponsors said
that if they encourage parents to send children to school, it's a step in the right
Christopher Thomas, general educator with the World Bank in Washington, who toured
the Ang Seng school in October, said the breakfast program appears to be contributing
to reducing the number of children repeating grades, an indication the pupils are
staying in school and paying attention. At that school, he said the number of children
repeating a grade this year is 97, down from 143 last year, and attendance is over
900, up from 834.
Officials said it is too early to determine when or if the villages or districts
will eventually be in a position to pick up the costs of the breakfast program on
But for now, it's a bargain for them. The communities are required to participate
by building the kitchens and providing cooks and vegetables and encouraging health
and nutrition education in the school.
Bob McLaughlin, education consultant for the breakfast program, said that some of
the schools took several months last year to get their kitchens built and pots purchased,
but the clamor by parents to get the food service started prodded them along and
in the end all of the schools selected to participate in the model program complied.
McLaughlin said the program appears to be quite successful, though the monitors have
to keep an eye on parents sneaking under-age children to school. "Both teachers
and students are coming to school on time," he said.
Deuk Saman, head of the school association in the Bati district, said the parents
are very pleased with the breakfast program and "bit by bit" raised the
money to build the kitchen and hire the cooks. He said the parents very much want
their children to get an education, but there's a shortage of classrooms. "We
have to build schools for all," he said.