SCHOOL DIRECTORS and teachers are calling for an increase in the Bt20-per-head school lunch budget after two schools were exposed for serving meals of plain rice noodle and fish sauce, and bowls of rice minus any meat.
The budget – equivalent to Bt3,000-Bt4,000 per meal for a small school of 150 to 200 pupils – can barely cover basic costs nowadays, they said.
As well as buying ingredients, a school has to hire a cook, buy cooking gas and pay other related expenses, they said.
Some schools also saved between Bt100 and Bt200 each day from this budget to fund student fieldtrips which the children’s parents could not afford, they said.
A Northeast-based primary school director who asked not to be named said: “Lunch budget cheating can be done in various ways. One is by withdrawing the lunch budget but not buying any food so pupils have to bring their own lunchboxes. Second, spending only part of the budget to buy food and keeping the rest; third, using the whole lunch budget to buy food but demanding a commission from shops. It is up to the school directors or the responsible teacher’s conscience not to do it.”
Some bidders for food contracts at big schools may bribe the school director to secure the project, but with an already-small budget, students end up with less nutritious meals, he said. Cheating would be harder to detect at big schools because the overall budget could still cover a meal for students.
Lunch budget cheating at a small-sized school would lead to obvious problems because the amount of money was not large, he said.
“Bt20 per head is already rather small to provide a lunch meal. Sometimes pupils at my school want to eat something delicious, so we ask them to bring their own cooked rice so that the school can give the special dish requested. With the Bt20 budget, we can give only one dish,” he said.
“I would like the budget to be higher. Most of the Bt3,000 it takes to feed 150 children only covers the cost of the rice, leaving little money to cover food ingredients and fruit for a snack,” the school director said. A dish of rice with curry on top nowadays is at least Bt40.
A primary school teacher in Surin said his small school faced little risk of lunch graft since it was located in the middle of a community where villagers can come in and check on teachers and activities.
“Teachers also need to help prepare the meal sometimes because the cook cannot make it all in time. Some teachers also eat the same lunch, pitching in Bt400-Bt500 per week, and helping out so the lunch meal will have two items,” he said.