KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 — Muda’s election manifesto pledges to provide a universal free school breakfast programme for all primary school students in government schools, irrespective of household income.
The pledge in Muda’s 92-page “Kertas Hitam” manifesto for the 15th general election, prepared last October 12 and posted on Muda’s website, differs from Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) “Tawaran Harapan” manifesto that proposes enhancing “targeted” free school breakfast programmes to ensure that “pupils from poor households are not left behind”.
“Even though this can be done in a targeted manner, a universal approach is aimed at preventing negative connotations and classifications in school based on one’s parents’ income,” Muda said in its manifesto.
“Through this approach, the government can also lower the rate of child stunting and encourage students who are lagging behind in their studies to attend school.”
Muda, contesting six federal seats in the 222-seat Parliament, is in an electoral pact with PH.
Maszlee Malik, who is now with PKR and defending Simpang Renggam for PH, previously proposed a free school breakfast programme for all students when he was education minister after running a pilot experiment in 100 schools, but the then-prime minister and finance minister had opposed the launch of the programme in 2020.
The free school breakfast programme would have benefited 2.7 million primary school children nationwide in 2020 and cost the government between RM800 million and RM1.67 billion, Parliament was reportedly told in October 2019.
Based on the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey, the prevalence of stunting among children aged under five years in Malaysia increased by 4.1 percentage points from 17.7 per cent in 2015 to 21.8 per cent in 2019. The report showed that children in the bottom 40 per cent (B40) income group had the highest prevalence of stunting.
The above issue is made more pressing when seen in conjunction with the 2020 Global Nutrition Report that found Malaysia has made no progress towards achieving the global targets for stunting and wasting in under-five children.
Muda’s other child-related pledges in its election manifesto include providing the right to public education at the primary and secondary school level to stateless children who are born in Malaysia.
“Many children are victims of circumstance because of legal complications or because of inability to register citizenship in the interiors, estates, and small islands,” said Muda’s manifesto.
The youth party proposed that this group of children be given special attention through remove classes until they are able to master the basic skills of reading and counting before they are absorbed into mainstream education to reduce the risk of drop outs.
Muda pledged to eliminate preschool registration fees for children from the B40 group, besides proposing discounts, higher tax breaks, or cash subsidies for those from the middle 40 per cent (M40).
“Although this approach is estimated to cost more than RM1 billion annually, this investment in human capital is worth it, considering that studies show children’s learning from as early as four years old is able to provide the biggest value to mental development.”