Media Release
Minister of Education Donald Grant
Western Cape

11 October, 2011

A nutritious food programme is a prerequisite for ensuring a quality learning experience

Speech by Minister Grant at Sonop Primary School, Paarl, in celebration of National Nutrition Week

I am delighted to be here today in celebration of National Nutrition Week.

I cannot underestimate how important nutrition is when it comes to education.

A hungry or frightened child cannot be effectively educated; therefore a successful and nutritious food programme is a prerequisite for ensuring a quality learning experience each school day.

While it is primarily the responsibility of a learner's guardians to ensure that his or her basic needs are met, the reality is that many parents lack the means to do so. This places an obligation on our schools to, where necessary, make it easier for children to learn by giving them a nutritious meal.

The importance attached to this can be directly seen through the increases this government has made in order to feed as many hungry children as possible. In this year's budget we increased the amount allocated to the feeding programme from R173 million in 2009/10 to R227 million in the current financial year.

The Western Cape's nutrition programme is one of the best run in the country and provides an essential service to hundreds of thousands of learners across the province. Currently over 428 000 learners, compared to 349 000 in 2010, benefit from the programme at 1 020 of our schools.

We have 2 745 volunteer food handlers in the province that help prepare the food and there are currently 338 food gardens at targeted schools in the province.

We have placed special emphasis on using the money allocated to this programme to try and provide more nutritious meals to young, exceptionally poor and vulnerable learners.

I am especially pleased to be here today for this event and am delighted to have some of our best celebrity chefs with us who are sharing some of their culinary skills with our food handlers today.

It is wonderful to have them on board with us. Using their celebrity status and support can make a difference in schemes such as this. Some of us are aware of how Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef in the United Kingdom, totally transformed the school nutrition programme in the UK, placing pressure on the government, schools and parents to adopt a more healthy alternative to the traditionally unhealthy "school dinners" meal.

A number of schools adopted Jamie's approach and in 2010 a study into these schools found that not only did learners test results improve, but the number of sick days were also drastically reduced.

The number of "authorised absences" - which are generally due to illness - fell by 15% and the researchers estimated that the proportion of students who achieved level 4 in their English Sats at key stage 2 increased by 4.5 percentage points after his intervention. The percentage who achieved level 5 in science was up 6 percentage points.

With these kind of results, we cannot deny the effects of a healthy diet in education. But it also has a much greater impact on the rest of your life, improving the quality of life and life expectancy.

I am pleased that in the Western Cape we have taken the importance of nutrition to a greater level. We are constantly evolving and improving our menu to include healthy alternatives and ingredients. For example, this year we introduced more fruit and vegetables into our menu and other items such as lentils and tinned fish.

I hope that our food handlers present today had fun and have learnt some new and exciting recipes. I would like to thank you all for the roles you play in making this programme so successful.

Thanks also to the Peninsula School Feeding Association for their role in highlighting the importance of school nutrition. We have had in place a successful partnership for a number of years, covering up to 30 000 learners, and the department looks forward to growing this partnership even further.

Finally, a big thank you to our celebrity chefs. I am sure now though that you all want to see who wins the stomachs of these learners. I can imagine that these are probably the toughest judges you will have to please, so it will be interesting to see what dish they deem their favourite!

Thank you.

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