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Oral Bac 2012 G1-G2
There are not enough classrooms at the Msekeni primary school, so half the lessons take place in the shade of yellow- blossomed acacia trees. Given this shortage, it might seem add that one of the school's purpose-built classrooms has been emptied of pupils and turned into a storeroom for sacks of grain. But it makes sense. Food matters more than shelter. Msekeni is in one of the poorer parts of Malawi, a landlocked southern African country of exceptional beauty and great poverty. No war lays waste Malawi, nor is the land unusually crowded or infertile, but Malawians still have trouble finding enough to eat. Half of the children under five are underfed. Hunger blights most aspects of Malawian life, so the country is as good a place as any to investigate how nutrition affects development and vice versa.

The headmaster at Msekeni, Bernard Kumanda, has strong views on the subject. He thinks food is a priceless teaching aid. Since 1999, his pupils have  received free school lunches. Donors such as the World Food Programme (WFP) provide the food: those sacks of grain (mostly mixed maize and soyabean flour, enriched witch vitamin A) in that converted classroom. Local volunteers do the cooking-turning the dry ingredients into nutritious food and serving it out on plastic plates. The children line up cheerfully singing a song called "We are getting porridge". When the school's feeding programme was introduced, enrolment at Msekeni doubled. Some of the new pupils had switched from nearly schools that did not give out free porridge, but most were children whose families had previously kept them at home to work. These families were so poor that the long-term benefits of education seemed unattractive when set against the short-term gain of sending children out to gather firewood to help in the fields. One plate of porridge a day completely altered the calculation.

A child fed at school will not cry so plaintively for food at home. Girls, who are more likely than boys to be kept out of school, are given extra food to take home. So are orphans, who are plentiful in Malawi, because many adults have died of AIDS.

Adapted from The Economist, July 31st, 2004

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