Early Childcare and The National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP)
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
A well-nourished, healthy and educated population is the foundation for growth and economic development, which begins with early childcare and development. Early child undernutrition remains one of the most pressing global health issues today. Nigeria has one of the highest burdens of childhood malnutrition globally. UNICEF estimates that 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five suffer from severe malnutrition each year. According to the 2017 multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS) by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), over 31% of children aged 2-5 years are underweight. Additionally, the National Nutrition and Health Survey by the NBA reports the prevalence of stunting as the most significant burden of malnutrition, with over 43% of children below five being stunted. Lastly, according to the MICS survey by the NBA, only 61% of children aged 2-5 are developmentally on track, and only 35.6% attend an early childhood programme. Interventions during early childhood to reduce undernutrition can maximize developmental and educational potential and educational attainment. .
Image courtesy: Independent Newspapers, Nigeria
Supplementary feeding programmes for disadvantaged young children provide energy and nutrients through food to children to reduce or prevent undernutrition. Consequently, school feeding programmes are essential social protection instruments that have been adopted in many countries of the world, including Nigeria, to improve learners’ nutrition and health outcomes, school attendance, attentiveness and performance. The National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) is one of the Federal Government's National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) components in Nigeria. It was implemented in 2016 and is managed by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (FMHADMSD). The core objective of the NHGSFP is to provide a nutritious, balanced meal each school day to pupils in classes 1 to 3 in public primary schools.. Based on the national policies on early childhood care and education, all public primary schools in Nigeria are required to have an early childcare section. As stated in the national policy on education, early childhood education covers the pre-primary school (day-care and nursery) until a child reaches the official school-age of 6 years to start primary school. However, this age/class group is not represented in the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The target beneficiaries are children in primary 1-3 in public primary schools.
The preschool years are a period of rapid growth in cognitive, social, and emotional skills and a sensitive period for promoting or inhibiting children's developmental potential. During early childhood, food insecurity and malnutrition can have detrimental long-term and intergenerational effects on health, education, and income, leading to considerable losses for both individuals and societies. A study was conducted in Ghana to investigate longitudinal associations between household food insecurity trajectories and multiple domains of early childhood development in lower primary school. The study's findings showed that preschool years of early childhood are a critical period for life-course skill formation, whereby cognitive and psycho-social outcomes interact and dynamically build upon previous achievements. The study indicates that children in food-insecure households are more likely to have poor-quality diets and impaired nutritional outcomes due to financial constraints in accessing food. In turn, micronutrient deficiencies and stunting in early childhood decrease cognitive skills and psycho-social health. Also, households experiencing food insecurity tend to invest fewer resources in ECE inputs such as quality education, etc., which can impact preschool enrollment. A study was carried out on the available research data on ECCE in Nigeria. Findings indicate that childhood care is predominantly in the private sector and counts against low-income earners and groups. It further suggests social inequality in the provision of early childhood care and education in Nigeria..
The area of early childhood care and its outcomes is largely neglected in Nigeria. There is little to no data that examines public preschools and the relation between malnutrition, household food insecurity and child development among preschoolers or in early primary school. This is a crucial gap due to the developmental importance of the early childhood period. An evaluation of the impact of the School Feeding Programme in the Oshogbo local government area in Osun State emphasizes the importance of school meals in enhancing the educational, health and nutritional status of pupils. The evidence from the study shows significant impacts on school meals in improving pupils' health and nutritional status. Additionally, it indicates attendance, enrolment, dropout, and academic performance improved because of school meals. As stated above, only about 36% of children between 2-5 are enrolled in preschool. Based on available research and the benefits of school feeding programmes on health and development, building capacity, access to and availability of public preschools, and incorporating the school feeding programme can be highly beneficial.
There is a critical need for research on early childhood education in Nigeria to determine access, availability and the gaps and challenges in the system. Documenting the role of food insecurity and undernutrition in shaping early childhood development and the interaction with preschool enrollment informs how to design and target policies to alleviate the detrimental effects of exposure to early childhood food insecurity. Informed recommendations towards preschool inclusion in the Nigerian School Feeding Programme are dependent on these factors and the available preschool infrastructure.
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