By Damali Mukhaye
Parents with learners in both private and government schools will be required to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for compulsory milk in a bid to boost children’s health.
Under the new government compulsory milk feeding programme, school administrators, board of governors and school food committees, will be required to meet parents and agree on how much each learner will pay.
The assistant Commissioner of Private Schools and Institutions in the Ministry of Education, Mr George Muteekanga, yesterday told a joint planning meeting that the new programme starts this term in 13 local government schools in Mukono, Kampala and Wakiso and will be out to the rest of the country in January next year.
“The issue of paying [for school milk] is not my issue… the issue of who pays is the parent. How much does he or she pay, that is for the parent to agree with the schools. All we are saying is let’s have a learner take at least a cup of milk per day,” Mr Muteekanga said.
“The [school management] committees should ensure that parents participate, contribute and pay because at the end of the day, if you can pay school fees for a child, why is it that you cannot pay for something for your child to eat at school?” he asked.
Mr Muteekanga, however, said parents who are unable to pay through the school should be allowed to give learners money to buy milk from the school canteens during breakfast.
School administrators have been instructed to monitor learners and ensure the feeding objectives are met.
Without delving into details, Ministry of Education officials said the new development would improve performance of learners, ensure good nutrition and reduce school dropouts.
According to MomJunction, a parenting website for child counsellors and other experts, milk and other dairy products are rich resources of calcium, protein and vital nutrients that are necessary for children’s growth and brain development.
Monitor understands that five years ago, the government had piloted the milk feeding programme in at least seven milk-producing districts of South Western Uganda.
Driving the mandate from the school feeding policy guidelines (2013), the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and the Ministry of Education in 2017 rolled out schools milk programmes in seven districts in south western Uganda, including Mbarara, Sheema, Kiruhura, Isingiro, Lyantonde, Ntungamo, and Bushenyi.
Ms Janet Kataha Museveni, the Education minister, would then issue the school feeding programme and direct all schools across the country to ensure that each learner gets a meal.
Ms Museveni asked the school management committee to agree on how much each parent should pay to have their children have a meal at school. Parents were also given an alternative of packing food.
Mr Muteekanga told Monitor that parents in the seven districts were paying between Shs10,000 to Shs15,000 per term for their children to have a cup of milk daily.
The new compulsory feeding programme yesterday attracted mixed reactions from leaders who attended the joint meeting, some protesting the directive and accusing the government of having a hidden agenda to create the market for undisclosed milk producers in the country.
Ms Olive Namazzi, the KCCA shadow minister in charge of public health and education docket, asked the government to provide free milk rather than transferring the burden to the already strained parents.
“KCCA has many problems and the biggest problem is not milk. We still have a problem with the teacher -learner ratio and poor remuneration of teachers. I think this is a tactic to find a market for their milk floating in the market,” Ms Namazzi said.
The chairperson of National Private Education Institutions (NPEIA), Mr Hasadu Kirabira, said: “This is going to be a breeding ground for greedy heads of school to charge exorbitant fees to learners in the guise of milk.”
“Kenya is supplying free milk to its schools for free. If the government wants the same, it should do the same.
If it attaches a price on milk for learners, it will cause commotion in schools and among parents, ”he said.
Nansana Municipality mayor Regina Bakitte talked of misplaced priorities. She said: “Parents with learners in UPE have been failing to pay Shs30,000 per term for their learners. Now where will they get the money for milk? Let the government invest in school gardens for them to produce food for learners rather than imposing another charge, unless they have their hidden agenda,” she said.
Mukono mayor Isa Mukisa welcomed the proposal but reminded the government that milk in western Uganda is not a problem since most families own cows. However, in Kampala, a litre of milk costs about Shs3,400.
Responding to those against the programme, Mr Muteekanga said: “We understand we have the issue of the economic crisis but again we cannot leave our children to die and stunt because we are saying the economy is bad. We need to address these challenges at once because at the end of the day, children must continue going to school, must eat, hence the concern of cost is not the issue.”
Unatu speaks out
The Secretary General of Uganda National Teachers’ Union, Mr Filbert Baguma, said the programme should be implemented in rural areas.
“The whole idea of feeding in schools hit a snag and remains a challenge. Government should now look at the sustainable programme. Do children need milk or food because some learners study for a full day,” Mr Baguma said.
He added: “The government should have started with a local governments with poorest parents who cannot afford milk. This should be a government intervention….It doesn’t have to complain that they do not have money when they splash it during elections. They should increase budgets for education sector and make this programme free of charge.”
The Director of Technical Services at Uganda Dairy Development Authority, Mr Samson Akankiza, yesterday said last year the country was producing 2.81 billion litres of milk annually.
He said of 2.81 billion litres, 19.2 percent (532 million litres) is consumed at the household level, 46.8 percent (1.4 billion litres) processed and consumed locally while 34 percent (952million litres) are processed and exported.
Although milk production has for the last seven years been growing at about 74 percent, consumption remains low with per capita consumption of about 60 litres as opposed to 200 litres.
Uganda exports milk to EAC, Comesa, India, Malaysia, UAE, Nepal, Syria Oman and Bangladesh.
Over the last four years, Uganda has collected about Shs358b in tax revenue.
What they say:
“It will not work because getting school fees right now is a challenge for many students. We have just a handful of students at school because parents are struggling to get school fees. During Covid, we asked parents to top up little money for oranges but how many came through?’’ Jackline Arach, school administrator
“They are now marketing their milk by force! If in my home I cannot [buy] milk for myself and the family, what are the chances that I can buy for the child milk at school? Parents of children I teach are finding it hard to pay school fees and now you are adding milk expenses, besides not all children take milk, this is now milking parents,’ Romulus Katusiime, teacher
“It is something we have been looking forward to because we know from experience that [we] lack some of these things. From the internal surveys we have done, a good number hardly take milk in a week or months. The question now is the affordability, government schools are viewed as those for low income parents,’’ Lukeman Mutambiire, Maths teacher
“I haven’t tried it, therefore, I don’t know whether it will work. I can’t say yes or no but the kind of parents we have here are those who can afford half a litre of milk at home for the youngest child. If it’s a family of five, milk is very rare at home,’ Hajjat Aisha Namaganda Ntege, the headmistress of Kiswa Primary School.
“I support the idea 100 percent but the system of free education has made government too lazy to supervise its schools, they should scrap off free education because it has become a political tool that’s why private schools are performing better than government [schools],’’ James Odongo, technician
“If you proposed the idea, why should it be the parents to pay? Look at the economy right now, many parents are paying fees partially, where will they find money for milk?’’ Daphine Turyabirwe, school administrator
Additional reporting by Stephen Otage
Invest or Donate towards HICGI New Agency Global Media Establishment – Watch video here