Ko Ora, Ka Ako, is New Zealand’s healthy school lunches program designed to reduce food insecurity by providing nutritious school lunches to children every day. As of March 2021, over eight million lunches were served in 542 schools, to over 132,600 learners.
In 2019, the government announced a two-year program, to deliver healthy and free lunches to grades one through eight to children in schools. This included 70 schools in the first roll out and, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program increased to 215,000 in 2020, and by the end of 2021, around 25% of students in N.Z. will receive school lunches. The Ministry of Education is the first government agency in N.Z. to roll out this program.
It is no secret that reducing food insecurity for children and young people improves their wellbeing, supports child development and learning, and improves learner’s levels on concentration, as well as behavior and school achievement. It also addresses barriers to children’s participation in education, promotes attendance at school, and boosts learners’ overall health. So, if reducing food insecurity is proven to improve the lives of the children of N.Z., the next generation, why are people so politically against the initiative?
The planned expansion of this program is not only expected to improve the lives of these children, but aid in economic support and create jobs from the pandemic. 942 jobs were created and it is estimated that 2,000 jobs will be by the end of the year.
On a more personal level, the Ko Ora, Ka Ako program has economic benefits for families in the lower income bracket, who struggle to provide daily needs. With the cost of school lunches covered, they can now buy school jerseys, have healthier & sustainable meals at home, and improve their children’s lives. This is what we all should want for the next generation.
Māgere Central School principal, Jacqualene Maindonald, has expressed that children are now more settled, engaged, and focused. At her school, there has also been a noticeable increase in attendance. Families in the past would keep their kids home rather than send them to school, but are now sending their children to school every day.
The program has not come without the need for improvement, but since it is in its starting phase, it is not expected to be perfect. The government is constantly gathering evidence to ensure that it guides future decisions and reflect the students’ needs. Still, the initiative has not come without political debates.
One of the largest issues pinpointed by opposition MPs, is the number of school lunches left uneaten, with taxpayers bearing the ‘cost’ of these leftover lunches. But Ministry of Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Stuff that he was not concerned with the leftover lunches as the program is improving over time. Students’ tastes are being identified and suppliers are improving how they manage orders. Schools did not throw the uneaten lunches away; most resulted from unexpected absences, or an order was done too far in advance. Nevertheless, schools have sent the lunches home with the kids for later meals or gave them to community centres. Therefore, the government has no reason to be concerned with the amount of ‘waste’. There will always be an oversupply of school lunches, as it is fresh food, but it is much more efficient for there to be too much food than not enough. Leaving kids hungry by not having enough lunches is defeating the purpose of the program.
ACT party leader, David Seymour called the program’s planning “irresponsible.” Paul Goldsmith, The National Party spokesman, believes that the program is poorly targeted. “If you’re responsible for sending out taxpayer money, then you’ve got a duty to measure its effectiveness, not just for the taxpayer, but for the kids,” he said. This is true to a certain extent, but the needs of the children come first. Uneaten lunches are expected, justified and do not go to waste, and the government is performing its duty.
Seymour blamed the parents for their inability to afford food, but also said the children still deserved access to it. However, the ACT does not support Ko Ora, Ka Ako. Everyone deserves to eat, and this should be guaranteed as a human right. Whether or not one agrees with Seymour’s statement of parental responsibility, some initiatives and issues in N.Z. should not be up for political debate. It is children’s livelihoods on the line; they are not to blame for their poverty, living situations, or parents’ income, so why are they the demographic suffering the most? The scheme also never claimed to solve all the dimensions of poverty, but to feed the kids lunches in schools.
Paula Bennett, Minister of Local Government, expects parents to send their children with school lunches. Of course, it is a parent’s responsibility, but some families simply cannot afford to feed their families and this needed to be addressed immediately. Jacinda Ardern stated in 2015 that lunches are not the answer to all measures of poverty. However, a guaranteed meal at school means the children are not the ones who suffer the greatest.
Politicians are picking apart the program, stating how it is not needed, and forgetting the issue that one in five children go hungry, every day. Is there an agenda in opposing this program for political gain, or truly because they care that the children are fed and nourished?
There are always parents who take this as an opportunity to be irresponsible with their children, as this is an issue that cannot be tackled by one school lunch scheme alone. But ultimately, it should not be up to the children to suffer and go the school starving with nothing in their lunch box. They are starting some of their most important growth and learning phases 15 steps back from everyone else, and dealing with the consequences of a poverty cycle that did not begin with them. Ko Ora, Ka Ako, is therefore helping the issue by leveling the playing field in nutrition, which is exactly what it set out to do. This system is not designed to solve all dimensions of the poverty cycle, but just ensure that the children still have the human right to an education in the psychological and physical environment in which they can focus and engage. This should not be subject to political gain or discussion. We should all want the best for the children of New Zealand.
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