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The global pandemic has been hard on everyone but for children, suddenly plunged into a world filled with fear and uncertainty, it has been particularly rough. That is why special consideration and support needs to be directed toward all our children but especially the candidates in this year’s Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam.

Already grappling with the stress of preparing for an exam that many of them fearfully regard as life-changing, these children have been further burdened with COVID-19 and the difficult and unexpected changes the pandemic has brought into their lives.

They haven’t been able to attend physical classes since March 14 and at that time the SEA exam was less than a month away, on April 2. Hardly any of them could seamlessly transition to online learning which involved big emotional and physical adjustments for them and their parents or guardians.

Bear in mind, also, that some families don’t have the means to access online learning, so for them, the anxiety would have been doubled.

So, it is very disconcerting that at such a critical time these frequent disputes are being waged very publicly between the Ministry of Education, the T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) and others who are now looking more like competing interests than partners in education.

The war of words being waged over the resumption of classes for SEA students, the date for the exam and even a stipend for the teachers, places these children in the middle of a mess from which they should have been shielded. It is bound to add to the psychological and emotional stress they are already experiencing.

Currently, when there is so much focus globally on fairness and equality, spare a thought for these children who deserve a lot more support and encouragement than they are getting right now as adults spar over stipends and entitlements. What about protecting their rights to education?

These frequent skirmishes detract from the very hard work a lot of teachers have been putting in online to minimise disruptions in learning for their students. It also threatens the gains that have been made to fill teaching and learning gaps caused by the pandemic.

For all concerned, the priority should be the SEA students who are already facing so much turmoil as they prepare for the next stage of their education journey, secondary school. Their best interests must be placed above all the other interests now publicly fighting over some very myopic and less important matters.

While TTUTA is well within its rights as a trade union to defend the rights of its workers, it must also uphold the highest professional standards in education.

The Ministry of Education, represented in this ongoing dialogue by Anthony Garcia, an educator by profession, must facilitate more productive consultations on the way forward for this very important sector and all its stakeholders.

Think about these children and make sure the best is provided for their education.