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More than just breakfast for all

  • The breakfast-for-all program could teach the parents to overcome racial and religious mistrust by providing the same food and a simple sense of dignity to all children.

By Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

To tell the truth, much of what I will say in support of the excellent program by Dr. Maszlee and his ministry, was inspired by my wife, Norhayati Yusof, who was a public school teacher for 16 years. She now helps Malay children with their English and Mathematics understanding at our house in Kajang.

The decision by the ministry to provide breakfast for all children is a wonderful and appropriate program. However, there were certain concerns by critical Malaysians which I will provide some input to answer them. To my wife and I, the breakfast-for-all program is not just about providing food for our children in school but also provide a more important ‘food’ for their soul; dignity and self-worth.

Let me deal with some facts that my wife had highlighted concerning her experience with children in schools and in our study sessions at home. She found out that many children go to school without any breakfast. One category of children is from poor families.

I find it extremely difficult to understand even poor families that could not even provide a piece of bread to the children. The fact that these children keep returning to school indicates that they have food at home but there are other things that prevented them from getting any breakfast. My wife told me that many teachers like her would use their own money to feed these children themselves. Whether the children be Malay, Chinese or Indian, is irrelevant to these good-hearted teachers.

The other category of children are those that ‘busy’ parents who would just give money and ship their children out the door without any breakfast. I call these parents irresponsible. My wife and I made sure that all our children have breakfast even though we have had on many occasions packed the bread while hurrying them to school if we were late.

With respect to food wastage issues by some parents, I think this could easily be solved by the children packing the meals for their recess time. No wastage there. There is no need for children from rich parents to be exempted. There is a higher more important reason that I will give later on.

The concerns for food contractors is of paramount importance. We parents are well aware of so many food poisoning issues in this country on school grounds and this must be dealt with without remorse. Contractors found to be serving food of this nature should not only be terminated but also fined and I would not disagree with a short prison sentence.

Let us now look at what the noble intentions might be for this program. First of all, Dr. Maszlee wants to ensure that our future generation can absorb the lessons on an even playing field…food in their stomach and for the brain to function effectively. Secondly, I think the ministry is trying to educate both the students and parents about healthy eating. Kuey teau goreng may not be too healthy for morning breakfast perhaps, however delicious it tastes.

The most important lesson of this breakfast-for-all program is one which none has raised in the media. It is about basic human dignity. I think many would empathize with the poor children a feeling of inferiority when they have to use coupons for breakfast while others use money. It is destructive to the learning psyche of young children if they have this feeling. With the breakfast-for-all program, all children would feel the same sense of dignity because they are all on a level playing ground. It would also help rich and well to do children be more humble with those who are the have-nots.

I still remember Enid Blyton’s social model in her Naughtiest Girl in School series where all the boarding school children had to give up their money brought to school and these were put in a single box. From this box every child were given the same amount to spend for the week. Any child can also request for extra money from the box by bringing the request to the weekly school meeting and the decision to approve or not was up to a jury of senior student body. I think Enid Blyton was laying the basis of socialism and simple sense of spiritual sharing for young children to consider.

Finally, perhaps the breakfast-for-all program could teach the parents of the children to overcome racial and religious hatred as well as mistrust by a simple act of providing the same food for the stomach and a simple sense of dignity to the soul of all our children.

(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at UCSI University.)


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