The Effects of School Feeding Program on Preschool Children

Introduction

School feeding programs have increased in popularity across different parts of the world, with the World Food Program (WFP) estimating the number of children under the feeding program. The program is essential as it aims to alleviate hunger and promote health and nutrition. The feeding program can enhance schooling results among learners in various regions. There has been an ongoing debate on the effects of feeding programs, especially the midday meals in schools, with proponents of the program suggesting an improvement in enrollment and attendance, giving children a chance to learn. The program’s proponents also suggest that the program enhances infants’ nutritional intake, eliminating short-term hunger, which initiates concentration and improvement in health and dietary standards.

Children’s development and learning ability depends on cognitive ability, which is a well-researched topic. A child’s nutrition in the early stages is significant in shaping physical size, mental growth, and gross motor techniques. Macronutrients and micronutrients in a child for a long period are essential to learning and behavioral properties, including academic competence, language development, social wellbeing, and self-control. Nutritional deficiencies during a child’s growth are critical to brain development and have adverse effects, especially during infancy and toddlerhood. Mineral elements such as iron are essential for later attentiveness memory and motor development of children.

Schools have significant functions in children’s lives and are essential environments for enhancing healthy eating habits and preventing nutritional problems among children. These institutions determine the availability, affordability, and intake of foods and drinks, including the ability to influence social traditions and moderate children’s perceptions of healthy and unhealthy meals. Foods and beverages available in schools are significant sources of energy and nutrients in a child’s diet. These foods can either be the main meal under the school program or snacks that students carry or purchase besides the school program. However, the foods and beverages from the hawkers and canteens outside the school’s main meal programs have high sugar, fat, and sodium content. The accessibility of such unhealthy foods and drinks in the school environment has reduced the potential for students to choose healthy varieties and establish uncertainty on the awareness of appropriate foods and beverages for the learners. Failure to develop strategies and policies that limit the availability of unhealthy foods and beverages in learning institutions would have adverse effects on children, including obesity, poor performance, and other health hazards.

Problem Statement

Several studies have investigated the influence of school feeding programs on learning outcomes by assessing cognitive achievement and the effect of midday meals on the schooling results. Other feeding schedules, such as mid-morning snacks in schools, also enhance cognitive performance and arithmetic test competence. Few studies have assessed the effect of midday food on school involvement and nutritional results, focusing on preschool children.

Lack of nutrition has become a widespread phenomenon among schools and hence attracted concern. However, poor nutritional standards in preschool have received minimal consideration, where some students have been attending learning without food, fruits, or snacks. A certain case involving a student attending a school without food, fruits, and snacks affected her ability to perform in school and the socializing ability with her peers.

I taught at a private preschool for a little over a year, which is my only experience at teaching thus far. While there, I noticed one child who was always hungry. When it was snack time or fruit time, she never had anything to eat. During these times, she would sit and look at the other children longingly and sometimes cry silently as they all ate their snacks or fruit. During playtime, her energy lapsed as she didn’t have the zeal to play or be alert in her activities. It affected her social skills and her learning abilities profusely. This observation pushed me to determine why this and what and why she wasn’t bringing food to school. After some time passed and I noticed no change, I decided to sit with her, ask her certain questions, and speak with the parents when they came to pick her up. Following are the steps that I used to ascertain the problem at hand.

Research Questions

The following research questions would guide the action research plan.

  1. What are the factors preventing a child from having food and snacks at school?
  2. How is the child affected by not having food and snacks in school?
  3. What are the financial constraints in providing food and snacks in school?

Significance of the Research

The purpose of this action research was to put into effect a school feeding program where any child who on any given day did not have food to eat will be provided with. Through observation, a lack of food sustenance/ nutrition causes the child to be disruptive, sad, and unresponsive in class. It was also done to investigate the link between lack of nutrition and student performance in school and solutions to alleviate this problem.

This action research proposal would be appropriate to establish the factors that hinder the provision of food and snacks to children in schools. The study would also help determine the effects of lack of food on children in schools and the financial limitations of providing food and snacks. This action research would be significant to affect a school feeding program where any child who did not have food to eat on any given day will get access to a meal. A lack of food sustenance/ nutrition causes a child to be disruptive, sad, and unresponsive in class through observation. This research would also establish a connection between poor nutrition and student performance in school and possible intervention measures.

Literature Review

The stunning implementation of free school feeding programs in schools produces variable results in public primary schools across various age groups. Chakraborty and Jayaraman (2019) investigated the effect of the global leading feeding program on children’s educational performance using maths and reading test scores of primary school-aged infants. The research findings indicate that children under five years of primary school experienced improved test scores by over 10-20%. Midday feeding programs have a great and statistically substantial effect on learning achievement in enhanced test scores among the learners attending the program throughout the school. Children with exposure to the feeding program show improvement in subjects like math at a higher rate after a year, while those with less than a year in such programs indicate a relatively lower improvement rate in reading and math.

Children attending a school come from different backgrounds, some from socioeconomically stable families and more disadvantaged backgrounds. Children from less advantaged backgrounds tend to enjoy nutritional developments in schools due to the snack programs and are likely to exhibit improvements in their performance. Such learners start from a lower foundation of nutritional status and hence likely to exhibit higher differential benefits of enhanced nutrition. Disadvantaged students show greater improvement in performance due to a potential increase in their nutritional consumption than the more privileged learners. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have a larger marginal benefit from the nutritional program than those from more privileged backgrounds.

Schools with and those without feeding and snacks programs show disparities in their children’s enrolment and admission, including the number of school-attending days among the learners. There is a likelihood that some children attend schools due to the provision of the midday meal and would probably be out of school were it not for the meals.

Several schools, especially in developing countries, allow hawking food, and the trend is increasingly gaining popularity among institutions. However, some depend on hawker foods while other learners carry the provision from their homes. The improvement in school children’s performance quality depends on providing nutritious food to satisfy the needs of the learners’ body during classes (Chapnick et al., 2019). Hawker food in schools contributes to the energy intake and protein consumption of elementary school learners. Despite the potential negative effects of hawker foods such as excess energy intake that could cause obesity, children eating the hawker food and some carrying provision from home enhance the children’s learning outcome. Lawlis et al. (2016) investigated the status of canteens in Australian schools based on the food and drink policy. The compliance with the policies was low and hence a barrier to healthy food implementation in schools.

School-going children depend on several factors when choosing hawker foods. A child’s feeding character is subject to the family and school in which the choices of hawker food depend on the availability of healthy and unhealthy food at home for the children (Lawlis et al., 2016). There is a need for the persistent availability of healthy food in school and at home to ensure sustainable access to healthy food. Children’s pocket money affects the access selection of healthy foods as the children with less money purchase unhealthy snacks. Children, therefore, end up suffering from diseases such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain after unhealthy eating (Masoomi et al., 2020). Therefore, all these aspects indicate that food affects the learning performance and hence the need for healthy food in schools.

Poor feeding in preschool children that causes malnutrition may affect children under 3 in different ways. The cognitive ability of preschool children depends on the nutritional status that determines the social functioning in childhood. Liu and Raine (2017) tested the hypothesis that malnutrition status is related to impairing social working in infancy, which depends on neurocognitive capability. Children with signs and symptoms of malnutrition exhibited damaged social behavior compared with infants with sufficient nutritional status. Reducing poor nutrition and promoting the nutritional levels is significant in enhancing positive social conduct in preschool during the vital time for social and neurocognitive growth, which would, in turn, create positive health in adulthood.

All of the literature works (Chakraborty & Jayaraman 2019), (Liu & Raine 2017), (Chapnick et al., 2019), and (Lawlis et al., 2016) reveal that nutrition is a significant determinant of the learning life of children in schools despite using different contexts. Liu and Raine (2017) focused on social function in children, which is a vital element in childhood development in schools. Chakraborty & Jayaraman (2019) used the direct context of a subject and performance in which learning math and test scores improved when a child experiences appropriate meals.

Research Design and Methodology

Action research would be an appropriate research design since it would facilitate a review of the existing practice, identify a phenomenon that requires improvement, propose a way forward and establish the outcomes while attempting to implement the proposed solutions. The process then attempts to modify the plan according to the findings before proceeding with the action, monitoring the modified action for evaluation. Therefore, action research involves four phases: planning, acting, observing, and reflecting on actions that form a spiral of action research cycles. The first cycle involving the four phases results in a plan that is an outcome of the reflections of the previous cycle. The alternation between action and critical reflection of the cycles facilitates a greater understanding through progressive refining of methods, data, and interpretation. Elliot describes the components of action research to include the following:

  • Developing an understanding of the problem and planning for intervention measures as the first step.
  • Execution of the intervention or action plan
  • Various forms of observation during and after intervention actions

Participants and Research Procedure

The following categories of individuals would constitute the participants to be involved in the research process:

The teacher

The teacher is directly in charge of the children’s behavior and performance and interacts with the children more than any other individual. Therefore, the teacher is the most appropriate participant to account for the learners’ behavior and learning outcomes.

The owner of the school

The key stakeholder and participants can account for the existing feeding program, the challenges, and the perceived effects on a child’s learning outcome. The school’s owner would also be important in permitting to alternate the feeding program during the research process for making an observation.

The other teacher may have witnessed or observed any unusual behavior

The parent

The parent would be essential in giving information on the changes in their child’s behavior with time and giving information on the child’s foods while at home.

The preschool children

The children are the most important participants as they offer observational data of their behavioral changes and changes in learning outcomes corresponding to the alterations in school availability.

Other parents

The other parents will provide information about their children’s behavior and performance compared to the main child’s behavioral and learning outcome changes.

The following steps would be the research procedure for the action research process:

    1. The first step would be to observe the student’s behavior upon their arrival at school.
    2. During playtime/snack time, there would be an observation of whether the child is eating or drinking.
    3. Discuss the situation with the owner of the school and the parent.
    4. Begin planning toward alleviating the problem in the future.

Data Collection Procedure

The data collection techniques used include tape recording of interviews and lessons, questionnaires, and interviews.

Tape Recording and Photographing

The tape recording methods like audiotaping and photographing would become part of the classroom routine. A tape recording will also be used during semi-structured interviews with the parents and teachers. Photographs of the children will be taken during the process and stored as visual records and visual diaries for analysis. The photographs will be used to offer complex information about the children and the teaching. Photographs of children during class activities will also be taken.

Questionnaires and Interviews

The research will involve the use of questionnaires for the teachers and the school owner with worksheets and assessment sheets to collect data on learners’ behavioral and learning variations. The questionnaires and interviews will be used in a problem setting and search for the objectivity of nutrition in school. Interviews involve a conversation between two parties to obtain information for a study. The research will use structured and semi-structured interviews with parents, teachers, and the school owner to obtain information about the children.

Data Analysis

The robustness of qualitative data depends on the effectiveness of the analysis. The research shall use thematic or pattern analysis of interviews, questionnaires and assessment sheets, and worksheets.

Ethical Issues

Before the inception of the research, it will be essential to plan and execute an ethical consideration and give all potential ethical factors of the study appropriate attention. The research involves students, and hence all the activities in the research revolve around the children and their day-to-day learning and behavioral activities in the school. The research will ensure that no child is placed at risk of any psychological or physical risk by ensuring that the interpretation and practical progress of the procedure is made after negotiation with all the participants directly concerned with the context under the research.

At the start of the research, there would be a need to discuss with the head of the school and the management about the ethical issues and the guiding principles of the research to obtain approval from the administration. The main participants would be children in preschool, and it would be appropriate to enlighten the parents and the school administration on the methods of data collection and recording, and analysis. I will therefore explain the research details to the parents, the administration, and the class teachers in a meeting set up. Some parents may be unaware of nutrition in education performance and children’s behavior development, and the action research process. The parents would then be enlightened on nutrition and education issues and shared on aspects concerning confidentiality and the protection of anonymity of the learners, teachers, and parents.

Evaluation of Findings

The research findings shall then be subjected to test for validity, reliability, and generalizability. Reliability relates to the degree to which a research instrument measures the intended variable. A method or tool is said to be reliable if it can consistently generate the same results under similar circumstances. According to Noble and Smith (2015), “assessing the reliability of study findings requires researchers and health professionals to make judgments about the ‘soundness’ of the research in relation to the application and appropriateness of the methods undertaken and the integrity of the final conclusions” (p. 34). Validity describes the extent to which an instrument accurately measures the outcome it was designed to measure. The reliability and validity of the quantitative data will be evaluated by calculating the level of test-retest and inter-rater agreement. For example, a pilot study will be conducted to helping in determining the reliability and validity of the structured questionnaire. The reliability of qualitative data will be evaluated by having two or multiple people interpret the data. Validity will be enhanced by selecting appropriate methods of measurement and sampling subjects.

Trustworthiness refers to the rigor of a research study, and it denotes the level of confidence in the data collected, how it was interpreted, and the methods employed to enhance the overall quality of the investigation. The rigor of the study will be evaluated by determining if the sampling, procedures, methods, and collected data is credible, dependable, verifiable, transferable, and authentic. Besides that, triangulation – a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods and researchers – will help improve the validity, reliability, and trustworthiness of the research findings. The last test of the quality of the study will be generalizability. This concept describes the degree to which the results of an investigation can be used to represent the entire population. With respect to a quantitative study, generalizability will be assessed by considering the sample size and if it is representative for the research population. A qualitative study of nutrition in preschool will focus on a specific issue of effects on performance, and hence generalizability of the study results will be difficult.

References

Chakraborty, T., & Jayaraman, R. (2019). School feeding and learning achievement: Evidence from India’s midday meal program. Journal of Development Economics, 139, 249-265. Web.

Chapnick, M., Barnidge, E., Sawicki, M., & Elliott, M. (2019). Healthy options in food pantries—a qualitative analysis of factors affecting the provision of healthy food items in St. Louis, Missouri. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 14(1-2), 262-280. Web.

Lawlis, T., Knox, M., & Jamieson, M. (2016). School canteens: A systematic review of the policy, perceptions and use from an Australian perspective. Nutrition & Dietetics, 73(4), 389-398. Web.

Liu, J., & Raine, A. (2017). Nutritional status and social behavior in preschool children: the mediating effects of neurocognitive functioning. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 13(2), e12321. Web.

Masoomi, H., Taheri, M., Irandoust, K., H’Mida, C., & Chtourou, H. (2020). The relationship of breakfast and snack foods with cognitive and academic performance and physical activity levels of adolescent students. Biological Rhythm Research, 51(3), 481-488. Web.

Noble, H., & Smith, J. (2015). Issues of validity and reliability in qualitative research. Evidence-Based Nursing, 18(2), 34-35. Web.

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NerdyTom. (2022, June 23). The Effects of School Feeding Program on Preschool Children. Retrieved from https://nerdytom.com/the-effects-of-school-feeding-program-on-preschool-children/

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