Free meals for primary school students will be introduced in all schools in Uzbekistan
The Government of Uzbekistan, a land-locked country in Central Asia, has made commitments to the health and well-being of students through a variety of national guidelines and, in the coming year, free meals for all primary school students. For example, the government has issued national guidelines in relation to healthy school meals, nutrition, health, food security, agriculture, and the participation of the private sector. Responsible agencies for school meals are the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Preschool and School Education. All schools in Uzbekistan have electricity, latrines, and dedicated eating spaces or cafeterias; while only some have piped water, clean water, flush toilets, and on-site kitchens.
In the 2020/2021 school year, there were 164 school days for primary school students and 204 school days for secondary school students. Due to COVID-19, however, schools were closed in September and October 2020 and again in April and May 2021. In response to the pandemic, schools strengthened measures aimed at hand hygiene of both students and the staff of food units.
A Private Sector Example
All school canteens are leased to business entities and operate based on an outsourcing model. In other words, upon winning tenders, private entities run all aspects of particular schools’ meal programs, from procurement and budgeting to cooking and serving. The choice of outsourcers is managed at the regional level in conjunction with a special local commission, which includes representatives of the local schools. Schools may enter into contracts on a one-to-one basis or a private entity can manage the programs of multiple schools. On the instructions of the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan, documents are currently being developed to improve the tendering system, transferring responsibilities from the regional level to the centralized level, at the level of the ministries.
The Road Ahead
Since February 2022, primary school students in the Karakalpakstan and Khorezm regions began to receive free school meals at the expense of the state budget. In total, 285,000 children were covered. This was provided for as part of the president’s initiative, announced during his election program in December 2021. At the end of 2022, the government announced it would expand its free meal program to other regions, including the capital city Tashkent. This announcement is a bold financial commitment from the government. President Shavkat Mirzoyoyev also announced a government commitment of almost USD 201.5 million to reach more students with free school meals. Starting from the 2023/2024 academic year, free meals for primary school students will be introduced in all schools in Uzbekistan. Though the world must wait to fully understand the effect and reach of this initiative, it is no doubt a great step forward for the Republic of Uzbekistan in furthering the health, well-being, and educational attainment of its students.