President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) Antonia De Freitas

Anna-Lisa Paul

Even though the Ministry of Education (MoE) is moving ahead with plans to administer the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam next month, the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) has advised all school officials not to risk their lives by going out to schools if they have not been vaccinated.

In an advisory to all education professionals relating to the proposal by the MoE to offer the option of an exam deferral to students due to write the June 10 exam, to next year – TTUTA has assured that it will defend their members against any attempt to bully or intimidate them into comprising their health and safety by the MoE.

The advisory which was dated May 11, contained decisions taken during TTUTA’s General Council Meeting which was held on May 8.

Noting the significant escalation of COVID-19 cases in T&T, the General Council said it understood the need to implement restrictions in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.

In acknowledging the offer by the MoE for parents who wish to defer the exam if they feel their child is not adequately prepared, TTUTA’s General Council said it is not new as, “The option of deferral has always been available to students in any given year.”

While the General Council said it was not opposed to this, they expressed serious concerns, “about large numbers of deferrals which could arise in 2021, due to challenges which students have faced arising out of situations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Examining the various scenarios – the General Council pointed out that increased numbers of deferrals for SEA 2021 would have a serious impact on the class sizes in the primary school; the availability of space in 2022 at secondary schools to accommodate both the deferred students and the Standard Five classes of that year; and the number of teachers required at the primary level to teach the larger cohort of students during the academic year 2021/2022.

They stressed that the maximum class size is around 30 pupils and as such, they have mandated that the principles to be established for a student to be allowed to defer the writing of the SEA in 2021 – be clearly enunciated to ensure that principals and teachers are protected from any liability.

Additionally, the General Council reaffirmed a previous decision that states, “That the examination should be postponed to no later than the first week in July 2021.”

They claimed, “This would allow for the government’s measures to curb the spread of the virus to really make a positive impact on our currently dangerous situation.”

Meanwhile, TTUTA again called on the Ministry of Health to include education professionals in the current vaccination programme.

TTUTA advised that it would not agree to any of its members including teachers, principals, school supervisors, curriculum officers, officers of Student Support Services Division and DERE to visit any school compound or office to engage in any activity related to the SEA 2021, unless educators have been vaccinated.

In response, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the government’s number one priority was keeping citizens safe.

Following measures by government to reduce the virus spread over the next few days, she said the success of these efforts would impact greatly on the way forward for both students and examinations.

However, she assured, “While the examinations are important, and all possible preparations are being made for their safe implementation, they are not more important than the health of the population, and the latter will not be sacrificed for the sake of the former.”

She said the names of all school personnel have been supplied to the Ministry of Health as requested, “for priority consideration with respect to the vaccination program.”

President of the National Primary Schools Principals Association (NAPSPA), Carlene Hayes confirmed there had been a decrease in the number of teachers volunteering to supervise the SEA 2021.

She said, “As the number of COVID-19 positive cases increase, many teachers will want to avoid putting themselves at risk.”

Hayes said with many educators having been denied the vaccine because they did fit the criteria, “NAPSPA holds the view that teachers and principals should not put themselves at risk at this time.”