Education transforms lives, it has the power to change the present and the future of people, also of their communities, it can eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities. Education must be nurtured with investment, with ambitious policies and measures that put children at the center. On International Education Day, Educo, a children’s NGO present in 14 countries, including Spain, launches the Feed Your Education (#AlimentaSuEducación) campaign with a dual objective. On the one hand, the most metaphorical, we want to reinforce in public opinion the need to nurture the educational system, prioritize education in our budgets, in the political and institutional agendas and of all the relevant actors in the sector. On the other, the most literal, we want to insist on the importance of the school canteen, as a space that guarantees adequate nutrition for boys and girls; also as a space that protects them, and allows them to continue learning, interacting and playing with their peers. Feeding and nurturing are present in many of our programs; in Spain, where we are an NGO known for our Comedor Scholarship program, as in the programs in other countries, where we support school canteens, orchards or food access initiatives to deal with contexts of crisis and food insecurity where there are still starving people.
The pandemic has shaken many Spanish homes. In a context of economic and social crisis and in the face of increasing child poverty, Educo considers the school canteen essential to guarantee the right to food, education and protection of children. On Education Day, at Educo we urge the Government and the autonomous communities to bet on the universalization of the school canteen, so that all boys and girls have access to this key space for their well-being and to which access must be ensured independently of the economic situation of his family.
31.1% of minors in Spain are at risk of poverty or social exclusion: 2.5 million boys and girls. However, dining room scholarships only cover 11% of children enrolled in compulsory education. Clearly insufficient if we take into account that 13% of the child population suffers from extreme poverty in Spain. We want to visualize that it does not even cover this sector. The canteen scholarship is much more than a meal, it ensures access to the school canteen and from there, it prevents school dropouts, promotes inclusion, protects against violence and contributes to guaranteeing equal opportunities.
Many Spanish families cannot pay all the costs of their children’s education and food. With the universalization of the school canteen, it would be guaranteed that any boy or girl has access to this space; a space that must be recognized and given the importance it has, so it should be included in the educational curriculum.
Like Spain, all the countries of the European Union, as well as the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland, have approved school feeding policies, recognizing the great importance of school meals for the healthy development of children and adolescents. In all these countries there are subsidies and aid for students in centers of their public education systems with the aim of making it more accessible and equal to obtain food for children during their compulsory education. But there are some who have taken more determined steps. Sweden, Finland and Estonia are some of the few European countries in the world that offer free school meals to all students in compulsory education, regardless of their ability to pay. In the specific case of Finland, the first country in the world to serve free school meals, all Finnish children between the ages of 6 and 16 are entitled to a free daily meal in primary and secondary schools. The Government made them mandatory in 1948 in all municipalities.
Despite all the progress made in recent years, there is still ample room for improvement. In the vast majority of high-income countries, free meals are usually only available to children from highly vulnerable families or who meet certain criteria. We can keep moving forward. For example, with the price of meals. We are one of the countries with the highest cost of school canteens, as in the coverage of scholarships that mostly cover only 50% of that cost. For this, a greater investment in education is essential, which at least places us in the average of European countries to begin to have the education that we want.
On International Education Day, we invite you to join the Educo #AlimentaSu Educación campaign, with the aim of nurturing the present of our children so that they can have opportunities, project themselves into the future and develop their full potential.