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Five year old Aden Ragoonath hugs his puppies at his home in Marabella on Monday.

Schools across Trinidad and Tobago, including tertiary education facilities, will likely not reopen before September 2020, Education Minister Anthony Garcia said yesterday.

Noting it was unlikely the COVID-19 outbreak would not be resolved completely before the end of the year, he said yesterday that projections have been made for the new academic year to begin in January 2021 featuring a condensed syllabus combining three school terms into two.

During a virtual press conference on the issue yesterday, Garcia said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had initially given an April 20 date for reopening but it was now clear they could not make that target.

However, he added, said Cabinet will decide on the way forward when it meets tomorrow.

“Cabinet will be the ones to decide if we are going this way or not,” he said.

Garcia acknowledging that local and regional exams would be affected by the continued closure of schools. He said the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam was originally scheduled to be administered on April 2 and would remain without a definite calendar date for the time.

He explained, “Depending on whenever school reopens, it would need, according to the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), at least one month for the preparation so that our students will be able to write the exam in relative comfort.”

He said this process would involve the proper training of invigilators.

“At least one month before the students can write the exam. And then for the exams to be corrected, that will take another month and then for the placement to be done…that will take another month.”

Regarding the regional Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams, which are administered directly by CXC, he said, “We need to look at it.”

He said CXC had presented proposals at a meeting of regional educational personnel and following a Cabinet decision last week, he said they were looking at holding those exams between June and July.

However, he noted that “because the situation is so fluid as it changes almost every day, it seems to be that is something we have to look at again.”

“We want to ensure that when our students sit these examinations, there will be no impediments and the exams would be done without any fault,” he stressed.

Garcia said although the closure had resulted in teachers and students being forced to remain at home, other measures have been put in place to ensure teaching and learning continued.

Elaborating on the ministry’s efforts, Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis said two e-learning platforms had been launched – the Education Management Information System (EMIS) and the School Learning Management System (SLMS).

He said these platforms were critical in supporting teachers and students in the online learning realm and commended teachers who rose to the challenge to provide content for every educational level, including the ECCE, Primary and Secondary.

Francis said the platforms also enabled teachers to conduct virtual classes and the public could also log on and access content as was being done by persons internationally.

“It would be a tragedy if in the midst of all these difficulties, we allow the education system to grind to a halt,” Francis said, adding people could visit learn.moe.gov.tt to access the site.

For those households where parents and children do not have access to electronic devices and or internet access, Francis said they were currently in discussion with various stakeholders to form partnerships to give them that access. For teachers without lap-tops or other electronic devices, Francis said those currently kept at schools could be redirected to them, while he estimated there were approximately 60,000 students who did not have such access.

He said they were also holding discussions with the two larger providers about increasing internet access and bandwidth capacity. The Catholic Board of Education had also started its own drive to get people to donate devices which they can forward to students and UNICEF has provided some funding to purchase devices, he added.

On the issue of special needs children and ensuring they too are included, Garcia said a document has been compiled following discussions with stakeholders and among the decisions is the identification of three schools in each education district to specifically assist such persons.

The ministers are to meet with the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) today to discuss the plan going forward.