It is sad that we are seeing a proposal for free food in over 200 lower decile schools in New Zealand; sad because there is a real need for such a programme and possibly sad because it will be a further drain on the energy levels of already over-worked teacher and support staff.
How has New Zealand reached such a desperate situation? The child poverty figures sow us that the need exists. Some would say however that it is not the job of schools to feed children, although many have been doing it for years in the form of breakfast clubs and other ways.
Children have been coming to school hungry for as long as I have been in the educational sector, but I believe that the problem is far worse now. That means that children can go all day without eating. The ramifications for a child’s learning are pretty obvious and as for resulting behavioural issues------just ask any teacher in target schools.
There have been many initiatives over the years to address child poverty, but they have failed to deliver a decrease in the number of children living below the poverty line. Do we increase benefits; some of them targeted for food, or do we resources schools at a higher level to enable them to address some of the daily needs of children what are not being met now? That is a difficult question. Is it the role of the State to take away for a parent the right to ‘provide?’ I have heard arguments that if the school/State does get heavily involved in ‘feeding children’ then some parents would simply renege on their responsibilities to their families.
That there are genuinely deprived families out there is beyond question, but the matter is far more complex ta n simply handing out food. If we take a deeper look at what is happening for many families, we will see a range of scenarios, ranging from ‘bad parenting/ budgeting’ right through to genuine poverty. Who will decide which kids get the help?
I know that at some schools where ‘breakfast clubs’ operate, that for some, there is a sense of shame in accepting the help. (I am sure those of you from England can tell stories about the school lunch programme and how it is perceived by some). I have seen the ‘club’ used as an inducement to get kids to arrive at school on time. I have also seen that even with this incentive, kids still arrive late and hungry, so again there is no easy answer or explanation for all of our ‘hungry kids.’
So where do we go with the suggestion as proposed? Do we go for it and see if things change; that is if the Government sees fit to finance such a scheme in these difficult times? Perhaps we need to look at the bigger picture of why we have this poverty in New Zealand. I very much doubt that this Government is going to be willing to make the changes that will narrow the gap between rich and poor, because it is at the very centre of their philosophical/political position, not to do so. Where to then?