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6 million pupils go to school hungry

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The Manila Times, Sunday, June 11, 2006

SPECIAL REPORT

Nearly impossible to feed their brains with lessons because

6 million pupils go to school hungry

Basic education: The poverty and malnutrition factors

By Likha Cuevas

WHAT if the classroom shortage, the poor quality of textbooks and the lack of intellectually and pedagogically qualified teachers are solved?  How wonderful it would be if all Filipino children can be in education’s enchanted kingdom.

Do you think the problems of Philippine basic education would then disappear?

No! Not for almost one-third of all school-age Filipino children.  Of the 20 million schoolchildren who began the 2006-07 school year last week, almost 30 percent belong to families living below the poverty line.  The children of these poor families, about six million of them, go to school hungry or in a state of malnutrition every day.

Some actually go to school without having had any kind of breakfast, others after eating a handful of rice and a piece of tuyo (dried fish). Well-to-do pupils who are used to three square meals a day might faint with hunger by three o’ clock p.m. if subjected to this kind of deprivation.

These poor children don’t take packed lunch and snacks with them. More than a third of them are likely to be suffering from different ranges of malnutrition.

You cannot think straight—you cannot absorb what you are being taught—when you’re hungry. The body has to address its more basic need first before it can address the cognitive need of the mind.

Signs of malnutrition

Clinical research shows that being underheight and underweight are signs of malnutrition. Studies in 2001 show that 31.8 percent of Filipino school-age children are underweight, 32 percent are stunted and 6.6 percent suffer from wasting disorders.

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology said Filipino schoolchildren suffer from protein-energy malnutrition, iron-deficiency anemia and deficiencies in vitamin A and iodine. (See side bar: “What malnutrition does to Filipino school kids.”)

The institute’s researches also show that clinically severe malnutrition and moderate malnutrition exponentially increase mortality risk in young children and that moderate malnutrition may pose delayed cognitive and psychomotor development.

Scientists associate malnutrition with poverty incidence in the country. The National Statistical Coordination Board says that poor families—those with per-capita income below the poverty threshold—made up 33 percent of total families in 2000 and 30 percent in 2003. 

Because too many families could not afford to buy enough food, the government launched a number of feeding programs through the Department of Education as a stopgap measure to address the malnutrition incidence in schoolchildren. This shows the government’s awareness of the relevance of nutrition to education.

Feeding programs

According to the Department of Education, the supplementary feeding program provides additional food equivalent to about a quarter of an individual’s daily food requirement. “It is intended to fill the deficiency in the quality and quantity of one’s home diet,” the department said.

The department is implementing the Breakfast-Feeding Program, School Milk Project, and Applied Nutrition Program. In addition, the Office of the President launched the Food for School Program in 2004 to deal with both the health status and academic performance of elementary schoolchildren in selected schools nationwide.

Rogelio A. Limson, head of the department’s school-feeding program, said breakfast feeding assuages short-term hunger by giving first graders from fifth-class municipalities noodles and biscuits every morning for 120 school days.

Limson said 414 schools and 22,222 pupils benefited from this program last school year, when it operated on a budget of P4 million.

Breakfast feeding is accompanied by the Food-for-School Program under the office of President Arroyo in coordination with the Department of Education, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Nutrition Council, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Economic and Development Authority and the Department of Agriculture’s National Food Authority.

The Food-for-School Program is carried out in 55 provinces in Regions 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Caraga and the

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