By Maszlee Malik
AS we all know, our schools have been reopened for preschoolers, Year One and Year Two pupils. Next week, those in Year Three till Year Six will also start classes while those in the secondary level will start their session on April 4.
Therefore, I urge the Government, through the Education Ministry, to continue with the Free Breakfast programme (PSP) for all 4.79 million students across Malaysia.
PSP was initially started with several schools involving 6,303 students, from Aug 27 until Nov 22, 2019, which was 64 days of schooling. The details from the pilot project have been recorded completely and can be used as a benchmark to expand the programme across the nation.
I am making this appeal as it would benefit three target groups directly; students, parents and canteen operators.
According to research, about 70% of our kids do not take breakfast before coming to school. UNICEF DM Analytics (February 2018), Khazanah Research Institute (February 2020 and many other reports by UNICEF have revealed that there is a serious problem of stunted growth and malnutrition among our primary school students.
Therefore, PSP will become an important intervention programme to ensure our children receive nutritious breakfast all year long, regardless of their socio-economic status.
At the same time, PSP will also help more than 2.4 million poor families in Malaysia. Most of the M40 people have now become B40 due to the pandemic.
Kids get nutritious meal, parents save money
In fact, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak economics professor, Prof Barjoyai Bardai had said that PSP will allow families to save RM2.3 bil in terms of cumulated income. We must understand that many parents are under tremendous pressure to provide allowances to their schoolchildren, as the pandemic has affected their wages.
In addition, PSP will also provide relief to over 70,000 canteen operators in Malaysia who are affected by school closures. This is very important as many of them depend solely on their canteen business for livelihood.
The three-pronged strategy through PSP is the solution to help our struggling citizens. Not only would students begin their day with a nutritious meal, parents can also save their money and stabilise their finances. Canteen operators will also revitalise economic activity at their locality as they would purchase raw food materials from distributors to prepare the breakfast.
As for the Government, they can use the funds allocated under the Supplementary Food Programme (RMT), which was left untouched as schools were closed since March last year to fund the programme. I estimate the sum available should be around RM300 mil. The money can be used for PSP and benefit at least 500,000 students for a start.
In reality, PSP will alleviate the people’s burden and revitalise our economy to become competitive again. I hope that my suggestions would be considered for everyone’s benefit. – March 2, 2021
Dr Maszlee Malik is the former Education Minister and the MP for Simpang Renggam.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.