MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Education (DepEd) will intensify its nutrition program next year to help more students to go to school and reduce the country's dropout rate.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro told senators during a hearing on the DepEd's budget for 2012 that one of their targets next year is to have vegetable gardens in schools.
He said this will be done in coordination with the Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources Departments.
"Our hope is that that would be more sustainable. The students, because they see themselves as part of growing them, will learn to eat vegetables," Luistro said.
Another program the DepEd aims to begin next year is coming up with small packets containing rice, sesame seeds, mongo, and other important nutrients to be distributed to students.
"It's the type that you mix with some other dish just to make sure that the essential nutrition is there," Luistro said.
Luistro noted that some 500,000 students in the country are malnourished.
In a previous hearing on Monday, he said poor nutrition causes students to drop out of school.
"We cannot talk about bringing them to school and teaching them ABC unless we feed them," the secretary said.
Senators urged education officials to prioritize the DepEd's nutrition program, which has a P77 million budget for next year.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan stressed that students should be both "smarter and healthier."
Senate education committee chairman Edgardo Angara, meanwhile, suggested that the DepEd integrate its feeding program with that of the Department of Social Welfare and Development so that more children would benefit.
"If we target grades 3, 4, and 5, we are targeting already the group that is very vulnerable to malnutrition," he told reporters after the hearing.