I am dismayed by the current dispute between the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) following the Minister of Education’s announcement of the preparatory period (July 20 to August 19) and the August 20 date for the writing of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination. As the parent of a Standard 5 student who was supposed to write the examination on April 2, I share my perspective.
TTUTA is on record recommending that a four to six week period is needed to properly prepare students for the SEA examination; the period July 20 to August 19 affords students more than four weeks to achieve this. Recall, when schools closed in March, the examination was a mere two weeks away. Students were not learning new topics, they were in revision mode.
I believe that TTUTA underestimates the intelligence and resilience of the 10+, 11- and 12-year-olds who write the SEA examination. In March, my 11-year-old son expressed his readiness and thereafter his disappointment when, after years spent preparing for the imminent examination, it was postponed. I too was disappointed. My son understands that all schools and much of the country had to be closed in order to treat responsibly with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response to TTUTA’s contention that all students could not access remote teaching, in addition to the Minstry of Education’s (MoE) School Learning Management System, I am aware that at least four local television stations have been broadcasting daily SEA programmes meant to assist students with examination revision.
The health and safety concerns raised by TTUTA in its June 12 release do not seem insurmountable once the Union, MoE and relevant agencies cooperate. Standard 5 students are old enough to follow public health guidelines and have likely been practising same over the past months.
Resuming classes in July for the Standard 5 students makes it easier to implement guidelines regarding physical distancing, spatial arrangements and hygiene requirements. The school population is reduced, with only Standard 5 students in attendance, conditions should therefore be safer. The distractions which occur when the full school population is present should be minimised thereby enabling students to concentrate fully during the four week preparatory period before the August 20 examination.
The Standard 5 students need not attend when schools reopen in September and consequently SEA teachers can focus their attention on the students promoted from Standard 4 to Standard 5.
Further, with a projected release date of SEA results in October current Standard 5 students will be able to enter secondary schools this year and get at least six weeks of tuition before the end of the first term.
I question whether TTUTA truly seeks the best interest and welfare of affected students when part of its above-mentioned release conveys a very inflexible and hostile tone. Another part of the release refers to existing grievances with teachers’ terms and conditions.
While these matters are legitimate ones to be settled between TTUTA and the Chief Personnel Officer, I regard them as extraneous to the immediate issues at hand, namely, adequate preparation time for students and a firm date for the SEA examination. TTUTA’s contention that the state is using our children as “political pawns” rings hollow.
The last 13 weeks spent waiting for a new SEA date have been filled with great anxiety for both students and parents. I ask TTUTA to rethink its position and not prolong this stressful period—agree to this one-off preparatory period and August examination date. I hope that principals, vice principals and Standard 5 teachers answer the call and report for duty on July 20 for the sake of SEA students nationwide.