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Thousands of learners starving in Kimberley

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Northern Cape -

Thousands of schoolchildren in Kimberley are starving and city principals have turned to the public in a desperate plea for food for learners after school feeding schemes at all fee-paying schools came to an end last week.

At two local schools absenteeism has increased rapidly with up to 50 learners a day absent at each of the schools since the scheme was stopped.

Chairwoman of the School Governing Body (SGB) at Kevin Nkoane Primary, Edwina Julius, said on Tuesday that absenteeism had increased dramatically as many learners were too hungry to attend school and there was also no incentive, in the form of a plate of food, for them to attend.

“We have engaged with the Department of Education about the need for a feeding scheme at the school as many of our learners are from underprivileged households and areas in Galeshewe such as Phutanang, Club 2000 and Vergenoeg.

“We encourage our children to bring lunch to school. However, how can we expect them to bring food as most of them only had the one meal a day they received at school?”

Julius added that the cancellation of feeding schemes had also resulted in violence on the school’s playground, with hungry learners bullying others for food. “Fights often break out when learners try to steal other children’s lunches or they fight over a few sandwiches.”

She added that the school often received donations of uniforms. “What we really need now is donations of food for our learners.”

According to Julies, the increased absenteeism, together with the fact that many of the children were hungry, had started to affect learners’ performances in class.

At Floors High and William Pescod High schools, learners jump over the fence at break to go home for something to eat.

One Grade 9 learner at Floors High School said on Tuesday that her parents bought three loaves of bread and put butter and jam on the slices. “I take this to school to give to my hungry classmates. I am still fortunate that I have parents who can support me.”

Another learner said she and her seven siblings all depended on the feeding scheme, as her parents were unemployed and depend on a social grant. “At home, we also depend on the soup kitchens for survival.”

A parent from Floors High School said the government did not care about learners in the Province.

“The truly underprivileged kids really depend on these feeding schemes at school and for some of them it is their only meal for the day,” she said.

“My daughter just started at Floors High and when they announced on Wednesday that there would no longer be feeding schemes available at the school, one of the girls in her class just burst into tears.”

She added that the same child had not returned to school since then.

“I am planning on organising a reunion of old students to try raise funds for the school to see if they can fund the feeding scheme themselves.

“I think its ridiculous to cut costs by stopping feeding schemes when there is so much other fat in the department’s budgets that could be cut.”

Department spokesman, Sydney Stander, explained there had been a decrease in the number of feeding days for fee-paying schools (those falling under quintiles 4 and 5), in terms of the National School Nutrition Programme.

“The programme is funded on a conditional grant, allocated to provinces according to the Division of Revenue Act (Dora) as well as other directives from the Department of Basic Education and National Treasury.”

He added that in terms of Dora, the NSNP (National Schools Nutrition Programme) only catered for no-fee schools (quintiles 1 to 3) and not fee-paying schools (quintiles 4 and 5) from the conditional grant funding.

“The Province undertook an initiative during the past financial years to feed certain qualifying fee-paying schools from the department’s equitable share funding.

“Due to departmental priorities within the equitable funding and in order to remain within the available funding allocated by Provincial and National Treasuries, all fee-paying schools were allocated a reduced allocation (number of feeding days) for the primary and secondary phases.

“Fee-paying schools were advised by the department to implement a learner targeting feeding strategy for the 2013/14 financial year and, where deemed necessary, to supplement the funding received from the department with the collection of school fees,” Stander said.” The Northern Cape is one of the few provinces that is feeding fee-paying schools from the department’s equitable budget and this has placed enormous pressure on other priority areas.

“For the 2014/15 financial year (April 2014 to March 2015), the department has requested additional funding in terms of the conditional grant to fund learners in quintile 4 schools.”

He added that the management of Floors, William Pescod and Kevin Nkoane schools “were naive to mislead (the public) when they know the facts because a communiqué went to them before the decision was taken”.

“They also know this was a special dispensation not provided for by policy that was implemented because we are a caring department.” - Diamond Fields Advertiser


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