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Antonia Tekah-De Freitas

Rishard Khan

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The T&T Unified Teachers Association and National Council of Parent Teachers’ Associations (NPTA) are ecstatic about Government’s decision to scrap preparation classes for the August 20 Secondary Entrance Assessment in light of the recent uptick in localised COVID-19 cases. However, the National Primary School Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) does not believe the decision was warranted.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the decision yesterday after noting that since July 21 there have been some 22 locally transmitted cases and a further 29 people contracting the virus from those patients. This, in turn, led to the subsequent closure of 12 primary schools of which either staff or SEA pupils either contracted the virus or came into contact with someone who tested positive.

One week later, the NPTA called for an end to classes during a meeting with the Ministry of Education and days later, the T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) joined that call.

Following the PM’s announcement, TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said they were joining other stakeholders in breathing a collective sigh of relief at the decision.

“The association is pleased that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has finally heeded our calls and they have done what is best for the health and safety of those involved,” Tekah-De Freitas said in a statement.

“The closure of schools was a necessary move to stop the spread of COVID-19 among our vulnerable students. It is the position of the association that the SEA preparation can continue online as necessary.”

Tekah-De Freitas suggested the Ministry of Education partner with corporate T&T to ensure all SEA candidates have devices and connectivity so the online teaching can go ahead. She also reiterated that the ministry should hire external people to supervise the exam.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges to the education sector. TTUTA will continue to do what is necessary, even though sometimes unpopular, to keep students and education practitioners safe,” she said, adding TTUTA was ready to partner with the ministry on plans for the reopening of schools in September.

NPTA public relations officer Sharmila Raheem also said they were pleased with the move.

“I’ve had a few calls from teachers and they were very happy and pleased. They wanted to thank us for our input and standing there with them and going the extra mile for them to achieve and to come to this point,” Raheem said.

However, NAPSPA president Lance Mottley described the decision as “unfortunate”. Mottley had previously suggested that instead of discontinuing the classes, the contact hours should have been reduced and yesterday still felt this was a better option.

“We have been saying all along that we keep closing down our schools or closing down our country. We have to find a way to coexist with COVID because COVID is going to be with us for a very long time,” Mottley told Guardian media in a telephone interview.

“We maintain that it was a small number of students who had been affected by COVID and regrettably so. But we have to take into consideration the larger population of students. There are 19,300 students in total who are expected to write the SEA. There are 476 schools. Between 10 to 12 schools have been closed – the majority of them out of an abundance of caution…the numbers in our opinion did not warrant the closure of schools.”

Despite this, he said the association understands the fears and concerns behind the decision and will provide the necessary support to get the students over the finish line.

“We would continue to work as best as we can with our teachers who would be working with our students while they are at home in preparation for the SEA so that they can do their best,” Mottley said.