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France to provide free breakfasts to poor students

Lunch at an elementary school canteen. Some schools will soon be serving breakfast as well. Charly Triballeau/AFP

As of September, students in France will be able to get breakfast at school through a programme aimed at boosting academic performance of poor children. The government anticipates some 100,000 students will receive the breakfasts during the next school year.

"The goal is for children to not start the day with an empty stomach, to stay concentrated the whole morning and to learn in the best conditions,” said Education Minister, jean-Michel Blanquer. "This measure is part of reducing inequalities from an early age.”

The state has committed six million euros for the meals in 2019, and 12 million for 2020, for the full school year.

It is part of an 8.5 billion euro anti-poverty plan announced by President Emmanuel Macron in September, which also includes offering subsidised lunches for one euro.

“Insufficient nourishment during school hours contributes to students’ difficulty learning,” said the inspector general of France’s national education system in a 2015 report on poverty and academic success.

Test expanded nationally

A pilot programme has already been underway in eight school districts, including Amiens, Lille, Montpellier, Nantes, Reims, Toulouse, Versailles and the overseas territory of Reunion island. Some 40,000 students have been getting the breakfasts.

Expanded nationally, the aid is voluntary. To get it, schools must be in designated urban priority education zones or rural areas where a social need “has been identified”.

Breakfasts must be high quality and balanced, open to all children, and accompanied by activities around nutrition.