By Yemi Idris-Aduloju
There is no gainsaying the fact that the current economic situation in Nigeria has made some parents to desist from sending their children to school.
And even in some cases, some parents are forced to withdraw their children from schools because of their inability to cope with the costs of keeping the children in schools.
Observers maintain that even in some states where education is free; there has been some reports concerning poor enrolment and outright withdrawal of pupils from schools.
As a result of the scenario, the Osun State Government decided to adopt a pragmatic approach to reverse such trends in the state.
The government adopted a school feeding programme known as ‘O’ Meal scheme to boost the enrolment of primary school pupils.
This is because pupils’ enrolment in the country as a whole is steadily declining.
For instance, a World Bank report put pupils’ enrolment in Nigerian primary schools at 84.7 per cent in 1990, 97.9 per cent in 2000 and 83.3 per cent in 2010; reflecting a gradual decline in pupils’ enrolment.
The O’ Meal programme of the Osun State Government, in which pupils are being given free lunch daily, has been yielding good results, as pupils’ enrolment in the state has improved dramatically.
The National Bureau of Statistics claimed that Osun State ranked highest in primary school enrolment in the country.
A report by the bureau in Wikipedia on July 8, 2013 said that pupils’ enrolment in Osun State’s primary schools ranged between 70 and 80 per cent.
The report said that Ekiti, Delta, Cross River and Enugu states had between 60 and 70 per cent enrolment, while Yobe and Kebbi states recorded 10 per cent — the lowest percentage in pupils’ enrolment.
The Deputy Governor of Osun, Mrs Titi Laoye-Tomori, at a recent media forum in Osogbo, recalled that the Federal Government actually introduced the school feeding programme in 2004 under the UBEC Act of 2004
Laoye-Tomori, who doubles as the state’s Commissioner for Education, noted the Federal Government adopted the school feeding programme in 2004 as one of the strategies aimed at boosting pupil enrolment.
She said that the Federal Government then spent about N98 million on the programme’s inauguration, while identifying 13 states, including Osun, as the focal states in the pilot stage of the programme.
The pilot programme was then expected to snowball into a full-scale project which would involve other states across the country.
Observers say that several states, however, failed to key in into the school feeding programme probably because of paucity of funds to drive the child-friendly initiative.
They, nonetheless, note that Osun and Kano states have since been at the forefront of efforts to implement the programme.
It is somewhat pertinent to note that the administration of former Gov. Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun (2003-2010) tried to sustain the school meal project in spite of the dwindling resources at the government’s disposal.
On assumption of office in November 2010, Gov. Rauf Aregbesola started implementing the project with renewed vigour.
Laoye-Tomori explained that the Aregbesola-administration decided to review the programme so as to ensure that its implementation was targeted at increasing pupil enrolment and boosting the children’s mental alertness.
“We observed that the meal we inherited from the previous administration was deficient of certain micronutrients required for the children’s growth.
“We, therefore, sought expert advice from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) on the kinds of food that are rich in mineral content; foods that can reverse retarded growth and enhance the children’s mental capacity.
“The experts came up with a wonderful menu that is very rich in proteins as well as vegetables and fruits,” she added.
The deputy governor said that at the moment, the pupils consumed 8,700 crates of eggs, 16, 000 chickens and seven tons of fish on a weekly basis, in addition to meat, beans, vegetables and fruits.
Laoye-Tomori said that the state government spent N17.9 million daily or N3.2 billion annually to feed more than 300,000 pupils.
She stressed that emphasis was placed on the improvement of the protein intake of the pupils at the elementary stage so as to boost their health status, as well as their physical and mental development.
She recalled that the cost of feeding the pupils was N20 per child under the immediate-past administration, adding that the current administration increased the cost to N50 per child in order to expand the nutritional value of the meals.
Besides, the deputy governor expatiated that the previous administration spent N7.7 million each day on school feeding programme, while the current administration reviewed the daily expenditure upwards to N17.9 million.