Author Topic: PM orders probe into alleged corruption in school lunch program  (Read 8634 times)

Offline Johnnie F.

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Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered the Education and Interior ministries to look into the free lunch program for kindergarten and primary school children after allegations of corruption have re-surfaced at some of the schools.

Deputy government spokesman Lt-Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak said today that the Prime Minister has received a report from the National Anti-Corruption Commission about alleged corruption concerning the program in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.

He said the Prime Minister places importance on the quality of the food provided to school children because he regards the students as the future of the country.

As an example of the corruption, Lt-Gen Werachon said some schools are providing free lunches for all the students, despite the fact that free lunch is meant only for kindergarten and primary students.

In some cases, the school management spent only part of the school lunch budget and could not explain where the rest of the money had gone.

Widespread corruption in the student free lunch program was exposed last year, leading to an investigation by the NACC and a cleanup of the malpractice. Alleged corruption re-emerged recently at some schools in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, with video clips showing meatless and vegetable pieces in soup being posted on social media.

One director of a municipal school in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ms. Amporn Dankongrak, was abruptly transferred after she posted a text message, complaining of low quality lunches at the school, on her Facebook page.

It was reported that a 37 million baht fund has been allocated for the free lunch programs at 10 municipal schools in Nakhon Si Thammarat for this fiscal year. Each school is empowered to call bids from private caterers to provide the free lunches for its students.


Offline Johnnie F.

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Re: PM orders probe into alleged corruption in school lunch program
« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2019, 07:54:13 PM »
A failing grade

Amid scandals, schools struggle to give students proper nutrition

First it was rotten eggs in phalo soup served to schoolchildren in Prachin Buri province. Then it was criticism over a school lunch case in Nakhon Pathom where people took to social media, complaining both the quality and quantity of a lunch meal served to primary pupils.

"[The food] can be finished in three spoons," a Facebook user described a photo of the problematic school lunch where only five small slices of fried chicken were seen on top of a tiny amount of rice. A small drop of ketchup for the chicken and a piece of guava were served on the side.

"This is a school, not a modelling institute," she added.

The internet has been abuzz with fury and debate this month with regard to the quality and very small portions of school lunches served at various academic institutions across the country. The two cases of spoiled phalo eggs and fried chicken with rice were unfortunately only the most recent scandals. In July, at least four schools in Nakhon Ratchasima province were found by the local National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to have served students substandard lunches. In April, a school director in Chon Buri province was accused of inflating the number of students in the school's lunch programme to pocket more state subsidies.

And perhaps the most scandalous one took place last year at Surat Thani province where students at Ban Tha Mai School were served khanom jeen (fermented rice noodles) with sprinkles of fish sauce as a school lunch. Following complaints by parents filed through the local education office, an investigation found that the school director committed a serious disciplinary violation for allowing low-nutrition meals under the state-run free lunch programme. He was dismissed from the job in May.

The case of khanom jeen and fish sauce lunch that made headlines last year was in fact a predecessor to many more poor-quality school lunch scandals across Thailand. Deputy Director for Research and International Relations from Mahidol University's Institute of Nutrition Asst Prof Kitti Sranacharoenpong said these substandard school lunch cases should be considered an extremely significant national agenda that should be taken care of immediately.

"Food is important. It's a basic right that every kid deserves. If children are left with an empty stomach, this would be a fundamental issue against their growth and development," commented Kitti who has been working with the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) on Thailand's school lunch programme and with neighbouring countries to set up a healthy lunch campaign for their students.

Thailand's state-funded school lunch programme was first piloted in around 1952 by the Ministry of Education. Back then, students with malnutrition in some areas were provided with free lunch after the ministry found that schools fell short of their own budget to keep their young ones full during lunchtime.

Wat Khum Kaeo School in Pathum Thani provides free lunch for students from kindergarten up to primary school. Photo: Apichit Jinakul

In 1987, the Office of the National Primary Education realised the importance of the state-supported school lunch programme so a policy was implemented that required schools to provide quality lunches to students. In 1992, the Fund for School Lunch of Primary School Students Act was enforced with an objective to provide lunch to all students in state schools across the country -- from kindergarten up to grade six. Right now approximately 27,000 schools or almost 4 million students nationwide are entitled to the programme.

Prof Kitti recalled the campaign 20 years ago when the lunch budget came down to only 7 baht per child. Then over the years, it increased to 10 baht, 13 baht and now 20 baht which covers everything, from ingredients and gas to labour costs. Although it sounds like small money, he said the budget should be adequate if appropriately allocated.

He said the problem doesn't stem from any monetary restriction but the awareness among all parties involved.

"Money is essential but it can't buy everything. When it comes to this school lunch issue, commitment is key," Kitti said.

Part of the problem is that in many schools, no one wants to take full responsibility for school lunch management. "Many teachers said it's not their responsibility," he added.

In many cases, teachers responsible for administrative work are assigned to attend a training session on nutrition for children. But when they return to schools, these administrators/teachers are tasked with jobs other than school lunch management.

Of course, poor-quality food intake results in inadequate nutrition, which takes its toll on a child's physical and intellectual development. And when the little ones do not eat enough at lunch, they could end up buying themselves snacks and beverages. Some choose to keep their stomachs satisfied with a bowl of instant noodles, carbonated drinks or other sweet beverages like sweetened milk.

Such a circumstance happens more in urban areas than in remote neighbourhoods given the abundant availability of fatty foods and sweet snacks.

"In city areas, it's another different picture," said Kitti. "In cities, mostly kids are fat because they are given money each day to buy their own food and snacks. Take a bottle of sweet beverage, as an example. A particular brand can contain as much as 15 to 16 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. If children drink that everyday for a year, they could end up gaining 20kgs. And now kids as young as 15 are found to suffer diabetes. If that's the case, Thailand has a high price to pay -- from medical treatment and medicine to even human resources."

After random surveys were conducted at state schools around Thailand under the state-sponsored school lunch programme, Kitti found that 70% of those academic institutions do provide students with a standard lunch. Amid the recent scandals, this is a piece of good news. However, he said big schools are usually not struggling when it comes to school lunch arrangements because the more students they have, the more budget they receive. "Small schools are most problematic. A school with 100 students, for example, only receives a budget of 2,000 baht per day, which can somehow be inadequate," he noted.

The nutrition expert sees Japan as a model country when it comes to healthy school lunches. There, every school has its own in-house nutritionist who is not tasked with teaching duties but is only in charge of nutritional aspects of school meals. Also in Japan, lunchtime takes two hours. Buying more snacks never occurs in most schools because children are not allowed to bring money to class. Also their budget for lunch is five times higher than in Thailand.

"We say children are our future and that they are important. But are we really paying attention to them?"

As part of a solution to solve the school lunch crisis, researcher from Mahidol University's Institute of Nutrition Pasamai Egkantrong recommended an in-house nutritionist in every school or at least a nutrition teacher who can look after school meals. If schools don't have the budget to employ their own nutritionist, at least zoning would be ideal.

"The idea of having a central kitchen -- in every tambon, perhaps -- should be put in place so that the central kitchen can then be in charge of preparing good lunches for every school in the neighbourhood. This way, quality can be controlled," she said in an earlier interview.

Prof Kitti suggested educating the entire school system. Every party involved -- be it schools, parents and even cooks -- must take part in the problem solving. Students themselves must also be educated. But in all, everything must be done through a positive reinforcement ideology.

"Stakeholders must all have the same mission," said Kitti. "We all must hold hands and head towards the same direction if we truly believe children are the nation's valuable resource. We invest in them and therefore corruption is an absolute must-not because this money belongs to them.

"Students must also be taught about the importance of opting for healthy diets and opting out of unhealthy stuff as well as the value of food given them. They must be made to understand their rights and responsibilities. If they don't care for themselves, they will grow up with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and more. Ask them if they want to get sick. Add such topics in a school's curriculum. Make sure they know why they should choose plain milk instead of sweetened milk."

Bangkok Post