KUALA LUMPUR: Uncertainty is looming over a free breakfast programme for all Malaysian primary schools, following the abrupt resignation of Mr Mazlee Malik as education minister.
Following Mr Mazlee’s exit on Jan 2, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has yet to announce a replacement. And in the meantime, initiatives started by the former minister are up in the air.
One such initiative is the free breakfast programme (PSP) which was supposed to kick in for 100 pilot schools on Jan 20.
HOLDING OUT HOPE
With less than two weeks to the initial implementation date of the programme, some parents are still holding out hope that the government will fulfill its promise.
“There is already a budget allocated for it, based on the date given, the framework for the implementation should also have been put in place, so why cancel?” said Ms Nur Hidayah Rahmat.
The mother of three children who are all going to the same primary school in Selangor said it would not be right for the government to back out.
“Technically it’s a promise that you made to these young children,” she said.
“With my kids, when I told them about it, they were excited to go to school. My youngest child even said he only wants to go after the 20th.”
The initiative is especially important to low-income families.
Single mother Lee Lim Mei, 33, said the free breakfast programme was the only way her children could have a good breakfast.
Her husband left the family last year and with her salary as a sales assistant, they can barely make ends meet.
“I have told my kids they will be getting free food in school and obviously that makes it exciting for them to go to school because in our current state, some mornings they only get cream crackers for breakfast,” she said.
Though people like Mdm Lee need the programme, others have noted that it may be a waste of taxpayers money.
Considering there is already a Supplementary Food Programme which is targeted at those in the bottom 40 per cent in terms of household income, some have questioned whether there is a need to set aside RM1.67 billion (US$408 million) for PSP.
Despite the continued criticism towards the programme since it was announced last August, Mr Mazlee had argued that it was not just about food.
He was earlier reported as saying that the programme, which will benefit over 2.7 million primary school students, also serves the purpose of teaching good eating habits and civic consciousness.
According to a report by the New Straits Times, Mr Mazlee said the programme was the brainchild of Dr Mahathir, as the latter was inspired by Japan’s policy to provide free breakfast to school children since the end of World War II.
“The programme will allow children to pick up civic lessons through learning the etiquette of eating, how to dispose of their food properly, washing their plates and more,” he said.
According to an FAQ earlier posted by Mr Mazlee on his Facebook page, the programme was to be implemented in stages. The first stage in January will involve 100 schools, 37,000 students and 1,600 teachers while stage two will begin in June involving 500 schools.
PARENT TEACHER ASSOCIATIONS UNSURE HOW TO PROCEED
With a lack of information from the authorities, parent teacher associations interviewed by CNA said they have no idea how they should proceed.
Mr Mohd Fadlie Mohd Yusof, the secretary to the parent teacher association of SK Taman Perling said there has been no circular issued on the schools chosen.
“I am not sure if the ministry has decided but since we did not receive anything, we assume that we have not been chosen and so will just continue how we used to,” he said, adding that not many students in his school even knew about the programme.
An official from the parent teacher Association of SK Setiawangsa also said: “For now, we think our school is not involved”.
EDUCATION MINISTRY STILL WORKING ON INITIATIVE
Responding to CNA’s queries, a spokesperson from the education ministry said they are still working on the initiative.
“We are waiting for the secretary-general (of the ministry) to finalise the matter,” said the spokesperson.
The list of the 100 pilot schools has also not been finalised, the spokesperson added.