Keeping hungry children motivated and in school throughout the day
Vincent Apora, a teacher at Lwala Buyonda Primary School, remembers how difficult it was to keep hungry children motivated and in school throughout the day. Despite agriculture dominating Uganda’s rural economy, 60% of primary school children study without a mid day meal. Research shows that a strong connection exists between academic performance and the availability of a mid-day meal at school, with lack of school feeding contributing to poor concentration, absenteeism and ultimately, poor results. Many parents struggle to contribute enough cash or food so that schools can provide a mid-day meal for all pupils.
The Bank of Ireland Staff Third World Fund supported a project in Lunyo Area Development Programme that has helped 4 primary schools to take the lead in producing food for children to eat while at school. Through the establishment of school gardens, pupils, parents and teachers work together to ensure a mid-day meal is available to all. Across the four schools, enrolment has increased by 15% since the beginning of the project, while afternoon absences are increasingly rare.
The project is also supporting a balanced diet among pupils, in a country where stunting, an indicator of malnutrition, effects one third of children under five. Alongside growing drought-resistant, short-maturing varieties of maize and cassava as staple crops for food security, some participating schools are also growing nutritious crops such as orange flesh sweet potato and fortified, iron rich beans. A 100g serving of orange flesh sweet potato provides a child with their entire recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in children and also increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. Bio-fortified beans, which contain more iron and are higher yielding than ordinary beans, help provide the iron necessary to resist disease, maintain energy levels and learning capacity among pupils.
However, the gardens provide much more than a source of nutritious food. Lack of parental involvement in their children’s education negatively impacts the overall quality of education in rural Uganda. While World Vision is working with school management committees and parent teacher associations to strengthen the involvement of parents in the management of schools, school gardens provide an informal opportunity for parents to meet with teachers and each other and discuss aspects of their children’s education. With over 90% of households in Lunyo relying on agriculture as their main livelihood activity, there is an opportunity for most parents to get involved - through lending farming tools, participating in trainings, providing land or grinding the maize into flour to make the staple school meal of maize porridge called posho. The schools noted that the increased involvement of parents was one of the most significant outcomes of the project.
Teachers in the participating schools note that improved attendance and concentration of pupils, and increased interaction between parents and teachers, has had an impact on the academic performance of pupils. For the first time in 3 years, Bubo primary school saw a child achieve a Division One pass in their Primary Leaving Exam, while Buloosi Primary School saw 73% of candidates for Primary Leaving Exams receive a pass mark.
These are significant achievements in a sub-county where school performance has long lagged well behind the national average. In Uganda, to qualify for secondary education, pupils must pass their leaving exams at the end of primary school.
The gardens also provide an opportunity for children to learn practical agricultural techniques that can be replicated at home, while they can also gain a more positive outlook on agriculture as a source of income.