Some parents have voiced concerns that their primary school children are having lunch late due to later dismissal times as more schools switch to a single-session model.
Over the past week, a flurry of letters and comments, both online and offline, has cast scrutiny on how late it can be before children tuck into a proper lunch as more primary schools let them off only between 1.30pm and 1.45pm, instead of around 1pm previously.
A check with the Ministry of Education (MOE) found that about three in five primary and secondary schools now set aside time for pupils to eat packed snacks, like fruit or a sandwich in class, on top of the usual half-hour recess. But parents still worry that their kids are having their lunch too late.
Responding to queries from The Straits Times, MOE said it has been encouraging schools to provide two meal breaks - one longer, one shorter - since 2015. "Students benefit from having short breaks in school to maintain energy levels and focus," said an MOE spokesman.
At schools that have not introduced a snack break, students can seek permission to have snacks during lessons, MOE added. There are now 182 primary schools here which operate on a single-session model.
Schools dismiss pupils later because of later start times or to accommodate new programmes, such as enrichment activities, in curriculum time, though many dismiss pupils before 1pm about one day a week.
But some parents like Madam June Tan, 43, who has a Primary 2 son in St Stephen's School, feels that snack time does not suffice.
The boy has a half-hour recess break at 10.15am and a break of around five minutes to eat a packed snack at noon. But she said he can eat lunch usually only after 2.40pm as he has to take the school bus from the school in Siglap to their home in Simei, and is the last to be dropped off.
"It's difficult for him as he has to go for a few hours without food, and he doesn't have a good appetite by dinner time as he has his lunch too late," said Madam Tan, who is self-employed and has given feedback to the school about this.
But other parents like housewife Pauline Kum, 35, are happy enough with the additional snack break.
"We had to get used to the timings but if you plan ahead, you can prepare nutritious snacks that won't affect their appetite during later meals. They don't need large portions because they are still young," said Ms Kum, who has a Primary 3 daughter in Sengkang Green Primary School, where they usually finish school at around 1.45pm.
Unity Primary School usually dismisses its pupils at 1.30pm. Vice-principal Remund Koh said the introduction of a 10- to 15-minute snack break this year has been largely well received by parents and the school is monitoring the situation to see if there is need for adjustment.
"Most of our pupils stay within walking distance from the school and I don't think there is a need for us to introduce an additional lunch break, which will mean later dismissal times for pupils."
At Mayflower Primary School, a snack break for pupils at 12.30pm was introduced last year. The principal, Mrs Lim-Chua Siow Ling, said this move was made after feedback from parents.
"Our dismissal time is 1.45pm and a large number of pupils in lower primary take the school bus home. By the time they get back, it can be as late as 3pm," said Mrs Lim.
With the snack break, pupils will at least have an opportunity to eat something every three hours and keep their stomachs full, she said.
"If parents are concerned about whether a snack is substantial, they can pack something heavier, like a sandwich," she added.