In 2019 according to United Nations’ data, the population of the Philippines has reach to a total 108, 507, 181. Moreover, in the Philippines’ statistics in 2015, 21.6 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.  Added to this, the subsistence incidence among Filipinos was estimated at 16.2 percent at the first Semester of 2018. This is alternatively called the proportion of Filipino whose income fall below food threshold. These statistics show that the poverty in the Philippines is still prevalent.

                The share of school children affected is getting bigger and bigger. Considering that these children are those who have less choice and ability to change whatever happens to them. It had been found out that the impact of poverty is not exclusively physical but very much psychological. It affects an individual in so many ways including his mental health and human behavior. Every form of poverty being material or racial has an impact on children’s health. Unemployment and very low income create an environment where kids can’t simply go to school for educational opportunities. As what has been proven through research, children who has been living in poverty have much lower school attendance and completion rate.

                The emotional impact of poverty to children simply makes them singled out, isolated, and stigmatized. Data shows that more than 2/3 of children living in poorest families had been embarrassed because their parents cannot afford the cost of school. During their stay in school, more than a quarter had been bullied. But above all these, health issues are one of the areas where poor people are affected the most. Like for instance, disproportionate large problem of diseases is caused by the consequences of poverty. Noticeably, poverty has negative impact on children’s health, emotional and cognitive development, better behavior and educational outcomes. Improved nutrition has the potential positive influence on learner’s performance and behavior. Students are likely to have fewer absences and frequently attends classes.

The greatest impact of malnutrition is experienced during the time of rapid brain development growth before the age of 5. This is the period where the brain is vulnerable. Poor nutrition negatively affects the learning capacity and the physical development of a child.  

                It had been found out that malnourished children are 20% less to be literate than children who received proper nutrition. Additionally, malnourished children are 7% more likely to make mistakes doing basic arithmetic. Further study shows that those students whose nutritional status were stunted were 79% less likely to score high in academic as compared to the normal. Students whose nutritional state was underweight were 39% less more likely to score high in academic performance compared with their counterparts.

                Realizing this present problem in early educational program, the Department has put in place programs and projects to address the problem. Greater partnership between and among parents, educators and other sectors were enjoined together in improving health and nutrition among children. Among the government initiatives on nutrition in partnership with other agencies includes School-based Feeding Program (SBFP), Gulayan Sa Paaralan, Wellness Program, Oh My Gulay, Rice for Education, Backyard Gardening and the yearly celebration of nutrition month.

                For the past years, DepEd has been advocating to improve the nutritional status of pupils and students. Most notably is the School-based Feeding Program (SBFP) which has been producing positive outcome and feedback. This is specifically mandated by DepEd Order number 54 series of 2013 which embodies the guidelines on the implementation of this program. SBFP’s main objective is to improve nutritional status among our pupils by enabling them to get more nutrients through daily feeding within the targeted continuous 120 feeding days. Likewise, with the active implementation of SBFP, it is at the same time enables millions of pupils to attend school on a regular basis. This initiative has been motivating pupils to report to school on a regular basis for one big reason that they will be fed in school. One of the advantages of school feeding is that in addition to enabling education it has direct and indirect benefits relating to number of other development goals like gender equality, poverty and hunger reduction, partnership in education, improvement on health and other social indicators.

                Some study shows that after 100 to 120 feeding days, there was a very high attainment in the SBFP goals. Specifically, 78.29 percent of the severely wasted were rehabilitated. The nutritional status and attendance have considerably improved by 98.86 percent. To reinforce further this program, the government enacted RA 11037 signed June 20, 2018 dubbed Masustansyang Pagkain sa Batang Pilipino. This aims to combat hunger and under nourishment among Filipino children. The DepEd and social welfare department were tasked to lead the implementation of this law.

                 As mandated by R.A 11037 feeding program will be given to under nourish school children from kinder to grade students. Through this program, school children will also receive one meal for the period of 120 days in a year. It includes milk feeding program, micro nutrients feeding, health examination, vaccination, and deworming among others. Water sanitation and integrated education, behavioral transformation, social mobilization and integrated approach to health and nutrition. The government also encourage schools to devote a portion of land or space for cultivation of vegetable and other nutritional rich plant.

                The aforesaid Act institutionalizes national feeding program on under nourished children in day care and elementary schools to combat hunger and under nutrition among Filipino children and appropriating funds thereof. In anticipation and response to this, DepEd got a hike of 5.7 billion of 2020. This is for the purpose of increasing project coverage. This allocation is for the sustainability and effectivity of the program. The provision of additional fund has been done in recognition that the DepEd is getting better in executing the school-based feeding program.

However, for this program to be more successful and holistic it should not only include under nourished enrolled school children but also those in the barangays. It should also extend its project implementation up to Grade 10. The sufficient and prompt release of fund for the purpose of parent’s education, health workers and barangay officials and training for teachers and other stakeholder has been done. If possible, the program to be more effective should also be extended to more than 120 feeding days. The procurement process should be simplified so that more efforts may be given to feeding and not on paperworks. – Mary Ann A. Papica, Ed.D., PSDS