When I went to primary school we were prodded, inspected, examined and injected to within an inch of our lives. My recollection is that in the primers barely a week went past without us being summoned (and in some cases taken) into a room to strip for some medic who we did not know to perform some examination on us that we did not understand.
Or we were summoned to the “murder house” for another tooth inspection which was usually followed by yet another lecture on nutrition, toothbrush technique or both.
We were injected for TB and I think there were others, injections never brought out my most courageous side. We sipped the Sabin to stave off polio.
I am sure that few of these procedures had informed consent procedures in place although you could never tell, in those days parents acted with great complicity when it came to giving school licence. Indeed on one occasion when I fled school claiming unbelievable stomach pains to avoid one such medical adventure – my brother having informed me that the needle being used was only slightly shorter but no sharper than a broomstick – my mother plonked me unceremoniously on the back of her bicycle and took me back to get my dose which was apparently in my best interests.
My point is this – in those days adults did whatever was necessary to see that young people grew up to be healthy and to be effective learners in school. Presumably this was regardless of the cost and the net was cast wide and finely. It was interventionist. We were healthy young blighters but were caught up in a net designed to miss no-one for whom it was essential.
So why all the fuss about school meals for low decile school students as suggested by David Shearer this week? In Finland, a country we aspire to equal in our education outcomes every student grets a free school lunch from age 7 when they start school to age 16 when they complete the basic schooling.
It cannot be the case that all the students in Finnish schools are actually hungry to the point where wide state intervention (in a very minor and mild way compared to what was done to us in the 1950s) is both necessary and a priority. But I imagine there must be some students who do need that added boost of one good meal a day. So providing such a meal for all students ensures that those who need it badly will not miss out nor will they be stigmatised by any selective process. Yes it might make the policy wonks tremble at the thought that it is poorly targeted but many policies are so get over it and move on, there is a bigger fish to fry here (“fish is on Friday dear” I hear the response).
School meals in the United States and the United Kingdom (where it seems that Jamie Oliver is charged) are a long tradition but are selectively available for the deserving. This generates much discussion.
But why should we do this? For a start regular good food is helpful to sound growth physically and mentally and which country in the world has a better capacity to produce food than New Zealand? A balanced diet is critical so this suggests that the comfort the Prime Minister finds in some children having an apple a day might not be well-grounded. Think back to the school milk days – yes it was luke warm – that provided the daily quantity of a substance known to aid health and promote growth. We just did it until someone who saw dollar bills instead of milk bottles called the whole thing off. The scheme has started again in a small way up North but this time relying on someone other than the government stumping up with the cash.
And that really is the issue that gets in the way of making decisions that are in the interests of young people – who pays when in a time of user-pays those that would benefit most can’t pay and those who can would claim they don’t need it?
It is up to a body like the government to simply decide that it will be done.
Meals in schools? Sounds good to me. Now let’s focus on nourishing the brain!