• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Free food for pupils: An expensive food for thought (2)

Free food for pupils: An expensive food for thought (2)

Why are politicians churning out unrealistic statistics? It all sounds like placing the cart before the horse all in a bid to cajole unsuspecting electorates. I hope the electorates are not falling prey to all these cheap deceptions believing that the free lunch proposition is a noble example of how education may become truly free. Have they checked to see if this is a well thought-through projection? The electorates need to ask these guys about how many of them can provide proven (scientific not wishful linear assumptions) blue-print of returning Nigeria into an agricultural giant even in the midst of dwindling price of crude oil.

Has Nigeria been able to ensure that the teachers are motivated, well trained and engaged? Or will the free lunch be extended to the teachers in order to raise their morale? How do we get to offer free lunch to students who are learning in a terrible environment, taught by disgruntled teachers with little or no consideration for the content or quality of the teaching?

This is my point: all these politicians seem to truly look alike when we think about their hamper of wishful offerings, particularly when elections time is near. They have similar strategies and gimmicks for cajoling the electorates. This idea of stomach infrastructure being introduced as free lunch for school children has become a cheap advantage that the Nigerian political parties and politicians now take over naive electorates. There is an urgent need to call the attention of the Nigerian electorates to their antics.

Put within context, the idea of free lunch for school children in Nigeria which politicians now publicize like doing the people a favour is just another distraction; it is neither fair nor feasible. Perchance it is even condescending coming from a set of “supposed” elite politicians as part of their agenda of programmes or manifesto for the schools or the society at large.

Read also: Ogun engages 3,000 cooks to feed 194,000 pupils in FG’s free school meals scheme  

This is what I mean. Be it the Ekiti stomach infrastructure, Osun free meal or Lagos free milk, there is a simple question to be answered: how does free daily food directly impact students’ performance, develop the society, create new jobs or contribute to the economy? Those politicians who think there is a direct connection between the free lunch and academic performance are obviously proffering very simple solutions to complex problems. The causality between food and academic performance is not as linear or simple as they think. Free lunch may improve students’ attendance and their health but it does not directly impact their academic performance, employment generation or socio-economic development of the states. The idea may have direct impact on the students’ health and, of course, many of the students will surely come to school because free lunch is an incentive for class attendance where parents of the pupils are poor. Yet there is no assurance that the students’ academic performance will automatically improve or that the morale of their teachers will improve as a result of the daily free food or milk.

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Free food for school pupils is not a proof of a sound political ideology. It neither shows that the politicians care so much about the students or their education nor represents an omen of good governance. In fact, it shows how myopic some of the proponents have been in all of their planning for education and the educational development of the states.

In contrast, a sound and well-articulated job creation plan should provide employment for millions of people. It should not be a solution to unemployment alone; it should have ripple effects and solve multiple problems including the provision of means for parents to guarantee three-square meals (not lunch alone) to their children. The reality is that parents who can comfortably provide regular daily feeding for their children will not patronize the free lunch rooms in public schools. When jobs are created, aggregate productivity should increase, people should become more productive and take care of themselves and their families, GDP will increase, school attendance might improve perhaps at the same rate with when free lunch is served (in which case the idea of a free lunch may become unnecessary if not laughable), crime should decrease, health should improve, economy should grow, and the society should develop.

By the way, a discerning Nigerian politician should have noticed that the electorates are becoming smarter; they can make better voting decisions based on parties’ record and aspirants’ perceived ability. Let the political parties go back to their drawing boards and prove to the people that they know what they are doing by presenting scientific proofs of the efficacy and relevance of their programmes with workable plans that are capable of fixing many of Nigeria’s complex problems. The aspirants in particular need to be able to think and think truly because the electorates are getting more enlightened; they can decipher and make decisions based on other serious factors beyond parties, their names, slogans and campaign noises filled with outlandish empty promises.

Everyone that believes in the paramount place of education in a nation’s building and development will agree that the sector deserves better than the jokes that Nigerian politicians play around it; education has been brutally relegated in Nigeria. It is myopic and, in my opinion, rude and perhaps somewhat crude for any serious politician to include free lunch to pupils as part of his programmes or manifesto. It’s either a show of blatant ignorance or a cunning manoeuvring both of which are appalling and unacceptable for anyone offering to lead or serve, whichever one is their true intention.

Lest they go away with this error and turn a lazy mental calculation or sheer political prank into a heroic record, there is an urgent need to nudge the electorates. We are a society of civil people, not a jungle; no real leader should promise to his people their fundamental rights of life and subsistence as part of a campaign manifesto chiefly for canvassing their votes. When the people have been terribly victimized, when they have suffered and become grossly denied of all things, it is very possible for their victors to offer to them their own divine or fundamental rights and inheritances as if they were some very rare favour and privileges. Now, if there is going to be any change, it must start from the way we think!