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UC education expert backs food in schools proposal

UC education expert backs proposal of a food in schools programme

May 2, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) education expert is backing the proposal of a food in schools programme.

UC Associate Professor Missy Morton says the programme is a fantastic opportunity to build on the work in the education, health and community sectors that is already underway in schools.

``It is a perfect chance to put in place policy that is based on evidence that is well researched, both locally and internationally,’’ Professor Morton says.

Prime Minister John Key has not ruled out government support for a food in schools programme aimed at decile one and two schools. Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's Education (Breakfast and Lunch in Schools) Amendment Bill is expected to get its first reading next month.

Professor Morton says students focus better on learning and assessment when they are not hungry.

``They are engaged and participating when they can focus on the activities at hand and benefit more from those activities when they are healthy. We have heard a lot recently about how a small country like Finland performs really well on international tests which measure students' learning.

``An important area where Finland performs considerably better than New Zealand is that even the lowest scoring Finnish students score better than the best scoring students from a number of other OECD countries.

``In New Zealand there is a large gap between the scores of students who perform well and those that perform less well. New Zealand stands out as having the largest gap between these two groups of students.

``What sets Finland apart? All schools in Finland provide lunch for all students, regardless of socio-economic status. Finland sees this as an investment in education, for individual students, but more importantly for the benefit of Finland both socially and economically.

``The benefits for the community might be less obvious, but they are just as significant. Here in Christchurch, a number of primary and secondary schools have food provided by local community groups.

``Students at those schools have told us that shared breakfasts have also become a good reason for going to school earlier, a chance to talk about homework and issues in a less formal venue.

``If this bill were passed and it no longer fell to those community groups to provide food to decile one and two schools, the community groups might then be able to support decile three or four schools.

UC sports education expert Associate Professor Nick Draper says the nutritional value of the lunch items available at school canteens would have important health and educational benefits for all students.

``Benefits include improvements in concentration and focus in afternoon teaching sessions as well as longer-term health benefits for New Zealanders.

``Positive changes were brought about through education initiatives such as Jamie Oliver’s in the United Kingdom, who showed what could be achieved cooking with fresh foods rather than processed foods,’’ Professor Draper says.


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