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FEATURE STORY

Laos: A Feeding Program is Bringing More Children to School

April 5, 2013

Lao students are enjoying their meal in the classroom. Free, nutritious school lunches are given to primary school children in remote areas to encourage school enrollment. (Photo: Bart Verweij/ World Bank)

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Poor school attendance due to poverty is a development challenge in Laos. Only seven out of ten children complete primary school.
  • The National School Meals Program (NSMP) provides free lunches to primary school students to encourage school enrollment.
  • Covering 227 schools, the program has benefited 19,098 students. NSMP is also a good platform for good hygiene, proper nutrition, and more.

VIENTIANE, April 5, 2013--- For many children in Oudomxay, a province in northwest Laos, going to school means a long, two-hour walk through hilly terrain. Some carry packed lunch. However, many of these children go to school empty-handed because their parents have to leave for the fields very early in the morning and cannot cook for them. They usually go to school hungry. To avoid this, some parents choose to pull their children out of school and take them to the fields where they could- at the very least- be fed. Unfortunately, this practice contributes to poor school attendance in Laos, a country where only seven out of ten children complete primary school.  The government launched the National School Meals Program (NSMP) as part of efforts to address this challenge.  Supported by the World Bank, it was rolled out on February 2012.

The National School Meals Program

NSMP provides free nutritious school lunches to primary school children in remote areas to encourage school enrollment,” said Omporn Regel, an education specialist from the World Bank office in Vientiane, “The program recognizes that good health and proper nutrition are important for improving mental performance, increasing enrollment, and reducing absenteeism. Community ownership is central to the success of this program,” 

An Oudomxay local government official noted that parents were supportive of the NSMP. “It’s a ‘worry-free’ program. Parents don’t have to worry about their children going home for lunch and having an accident. For example, they worry that if the children cook alone they might burn the house,” she said.

The NSMP initially covered 66 schools but has now expanded to 227 schools. It is benefiting 19,098 primary school students from Oudomxay, Phongsaly, Huaphan, Bolikhamxai, and Xayaboury, which are among the poorest provinces in Laos

Open Quotes

The program recognizes that good health and proper nutrition are important for improving mental performance, increasing enrollment, and reducing absenteeism. Community ownership is central to the success of this program Close Quotes

Omporn Regel
Education Specialist, World Bank in Vientiane

Benefits

NSMP is mainly an effort to curb low attendance but it also has other good offshoots.  Some of these are:

• Good hygiene.  Children are instructed to wash their hands properly before meals and after using the toilet. School administrators are encouraged to have safe water and clean toilet facilities.

• Proper nutrition. Volunteer cooks from the Lao Women’s Union are taught about the nutritional value of different types of food and how to prepare nutritious, clean, and varied meals. Better nourished children are likely to learn more.

• Food security. Vegetables and fruits are cultivated while animals are raised in the schools and communities. As such, there is a steady supply of fresh food for school meals.  This also helps boost local agriculture and supports local farmers.

• Community empowerment. Since volunteers- from cooks to mobilizers- are from the areas where the schools are located, community participation is a prerequisite for success.  Those who see the value of NSMP are happy to lend a hand. Many villagers, for instance, have donated products from their own vegetable gardens.

Everyone in our community is happy because children don’t only get a good education. They are also able to eat food that makes them healthy and perform better in school,” said a villager.

The school feeding program is effective but it’s still at its infancy stage,” said Yangxia Lee, who is the Deputy Director General of the Department of Pre-primary and Primary Education and also the Director of Inclusive Education Center of the Ministry of Education and Sports.

She adds: “We are working closely with communities to make it sustainable and are also hoping to expand it so more students can benefit,”

World Bank Support

The Ministry of Education and Sports, of the government of Laos, implements the NSMP.  It is supported by the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative Catalytic Fund from the Global Partnership for Education.  The World Bank is the supervising entity of this program.