Minister of Education, Rev. Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says the Ministry is seeking to have the benefits of students under the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) increased, particularly the nutrition component.
He said this is critical as students’ ability to learn is often severely impacted by the lack of proper nutrition. “If parents and the entire culture will not emphasise good nutrition, it is hardly likely that whatever else we do, that the education outcomes of our people will improve to the extent that we seek,” he stated.
The Minister was speaking at the opening ceremony of the 10th anniversary conference of the Jamaica Association of Professionals in Nutrition and Dietetics (JAPINAD) held on Wednesday (May 9) at the Wyndham Kingston hotel.
He pointed out that more than 50 per cent of school children are economically challenged and on PATH, who are offered a dietary supplement valued at $52 per day for three days per week.
He said that while schools also provide cooked lunches, school children are still embedded in a “cheese trix and bag juice culture,” and stressed that their standard of nutrition needs to be improved.
“It is not only a question of economic disability, although that is foremost, the Jamaican society has become weaned on a fast food culture and in many instances, our children …have not been weaned on the items of food that would be most nutritious and indeed most economical,” Rev. Thwaites said.
He said that the Ministry is looking at de-centralising the school feeding programme “for which the taxpayers of Jamaica contribute some $3.5 billion annually and serve some 750,000 students…and to encourage the incorporation of local agricultural produce in the provision of not only a supplement at lunch but also something for breakfast”.
“We expect that soon, there will emerge from our partners in the Ministry of Health; a national nutrition policy refined for children in school at the various ages and stages of their growth and that also there will be similar partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture for the provision of as much local produce as we can. We (also) salute the introduction of local juice concentrates into the school feeding system,” he stated.
The three-day international conference, which concludes on May 11 is being held under the theme: “Nutrition Linkages – Impacting Development from Nationhood to Global Prominence’.
JAPINAD was formed by resolution of the regional association, the Caribbean Association of Nutritionists and Dietitians (CANDi), at its Annual General Meeting in Barbados in 2001. CANDi members agreed to advance their profession through the establishment of nutrition and dietetics associations throughout their member countries in the region. The local association was launched in 2002.
PATH is a conditional cash transfer programme, which has been providing assistance to the most vulnerable in society since its inception in 2002.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter