A newly-approved policy on school meal provision is set to expand and improve the quality of the existing school feeding programme (SFP), a senior government official has said.
The policy, approved by the cabinet at the government monthly meeting for February, encourages all sectors in society to participate in supporting the SFP, a move that is hoped to expand the programme to benefit a wider range of schoolchildren, not ably children of poor families.
Deputy Director General of the Pre-Primary and Primary Education Department, Ministry of Education and Sport (MES), Ms Yangsia Lee, told the Vientiane Times yesterday that the policy also gives guidance for relevant sectors to work together to ensure that the food provided is nutritious.
She added that there are rooms for the government's three main sectors involved - the MES, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - and development donors to work together to make sure that the food provided is healthy and beneficial.
Ms Yangsia, who is also Director of the Inclusive Education Centre, said the meals provided are not just to satisfy the children's hunger, but also to provide nutritious food so that they can grow to reach their potential physical and mental development.
So far, several programmes have been initiated in partnerships between donors and the government to provide meals in schools, notably in rural communities.
More than 30,900 students in 316 schools in the nine poorest districts of five provinces have received a free lunch, thanks to the support of development partners through the Global Partnership for Education.
In addition, the World Food Programme has provided snacks to 685,600 students in 1,733 schools in 32 districts across seven provinces.
Besides this, the Catholic Relief Service has also provided meals to 312 schools in six districts of Savannakhet province. The Lao government is also funding school meal programmes in 23 ethnic boarding schools in various provinces.
Ms Yangsia said the new policy and the school feeding programme will add fuel to the government's efforts to reach the ‘Education for All' targets, given that the programme also encourages children to come to school.
It will also stimulate the government's effort to address malnutrition - the condition that continues to plague a number of rural children in Laos.
Officials have said the malnutrition issue posts the greatest challenge for Laos to attain the millennium development goals (MDGs).
Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Dr Khamlien Pholsena told members of the National Assembly in a meeting held last June that Laos would struggle to meet the target of reducing the percentage of children under five who have not reached their potential height from 38 to 34 percent by 2015.
Laos is also working hard to reduce the number of children under five who are underweight from 27 to 22 percent by 2015.