Despite concerns over the localised spread of COVID-19 across in T&T, the date for this year’s rescheduled Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam will remain August 20.
Following a virtual meeting with stakeholders yesterday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) stuck with the date. Education Minister Anthony Garcia said the decision was agreed by all stakeholders to be in the best interest of students.
“We remain committed to providing an environment that is safe for learning and teaching, particularly during this time, while all schools continue to observe the protocols aligned to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines,” Garcia said.
“We will continue to monitor this ever-changing situation and if needed, augment and adjust for the benefit of all within the school community.”
Yesterday’s discussions considered moving the SEA date forward but this was axed after ministry officials noted the logistical challenges. They argued that given the limited time frame in which to request deferrals from the Ministry of National Security for the CXC testers, as well as the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their arrival here, it was not feasible.
Concerning the continuation of physical classes in the lead-up to the exam, there were divergent views among stakeholders. Some expressed concerns for the health and safety of students and wanted schools to be closed again, while others wanted schools to remain open to mitigate any further psychological impact on the students.
TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said while they requested a later date for the exam due to health and safety concerns, the ministry held fast to the August date.
However, she said, “We are asking that consideration be given to leaving the students home and suspending the (current) population classes because of the spread of the cases and utilising external invigilators who are not teachers to supervise the students.”National Council Parents/Teachers Association PRO Shamila Raheem raised concerns relating to the closure of the Maraval RC and Tacarigua Presbyterian due to the localised spread of the virus.
“We maintain the fact that SEA could remain on August 20. If it could have been brought forward, we would have been happy but the Minister advised us in terms of having foreign interventions for supervision and the need for the quarantine process so we had to kind of settle for August 20,” Raheem said.
Regarding the closure of schools, she said that decision was still pending. She said despite the outcomes from yesterday’s meeting, they were “concerned about schools still being open, children being at risk because of the fact that we have community spread.”
Raheem said while the original postponement from April 2 was no fault of anyone, a second such move would put students in a frustrating position.
Despite this, Raheem said, “I would like to see schools closed because we deal with the teachers, we deal with the parents, we deal with the principals, we represent them and their concerns are that the schools be closed.”
Rachiel Ramsamooj, the administrator of the SEA Parent Support Group on Facebook, which has over 10,000 members, said some parents were anticipating an earlier date in light of the current COVID-19 situation. Admitting some children had been at home since March who did not have any teaching and learning contact and would be at a disadvantage, she said the August 20 decision was fair and would benefit all students.
Regarding the proposal to suspend physical classes ahead of the exam, Ramsamooj said, “I don’t know if that may be the wisest thing to do. Maybe they should have actually reduced the number of contact hours during each day or limit the number of days the students are exposed to each other at the school compound.”
Pressed to give the feedback of her members on sending their children to school, Ramsamooj revealed, “A lot of parents have already started keeping them at home and maybe sending them out intermittently or just for the weekly mock exams which are administered in most schools. But some parents are really hoping for the date to be brought up so they wouldn’t have to keep their children away but I think it’s really a personal decision now but we will have to wait and see.”
The MOE has agreed to assess the situation for the remainder of this week before announcing a decision early next week.
Stakeholders who participated in yesterday’s meeting included: T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA); National Primary Schools Principals Association (NAPSPA); National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA); Association of Denominational Boards; Private Primary Schools Principals Association (PPSPA); Association of Principals of Assisted Secondary Schools (APASS); Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools (APPSS); National Advisory Committee on Education and the Private Special Schools Association (PSSATT).