Most of us take it for granted that when we wake up in the morning and roll out of bed for another day of school, there will be a box of Weet-bix or loaf of bread in the pantry for breakfast. And if you’re not one to eat breakfast, at least there will be a sandwich and packet of chips for morning tea and lunch.
It’s difficult to imagine, then, what it must be like to go an entire school day without a meaningful meal, at no fault of your own. For many young New Zealanders in low decile schools and low income families, this is the norm, and their education is suffering as a result. It almost goes without saying that when you provide a meal, either before or during the school day, these children will be happier, more attentive in class, and simply more encouraged to attend school itself.
I agree, as many opponents of National’s new breakfast in schools scheme have argued, that responsibility principally lies with the parents. It is also unfortunate that some parents eschew their duty as carers by prioritising their own desire for alcohol and cigarettes over food for their children. But let’s not convince ourselves that all low-income parents are careless—some simply do not have the means to consistently provide a meal to their children in the face of high living costs and low wages. Others simply are not aware of what it means to be a good parent—perhaps they grew up in similar hardship, with parents who likewise lacked a sense of what their priorities ought to be.
And even if these parents are given the means to feed their children but choose to use them unwisely, why should guiltless children be the ones who suffer? It is unfair for any student to be disadvantaged due to circumstances beyond their control. It goes without saying that when left hungry their achievement will suffer and the cycle of poverty continue. When, for whatever reason, a child is found to be without a school lunch, somebody has a responsibility to ensure that they get one, and that they have the very same opportunity for success in school as their classmates who are well fed.
School serves several purposes in our society. It provides foundational knowledge, up skills students in preparation for tertiary training and offers qualifications for employment. But arguably just as important is the role of school as an instrument for equality — every child in the classroom is given the very same opportunity to succeed, and that includes providing the nutrition necessary for learning. When school fulfils this role, we have more happy and bright New Zealanders, who also happen to grow up understanding that we all deserve an equal start in life.
Image source: https://kickstartbreakfast.co.nz/