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TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas

Since face-to-face classes resumed for all Forms Four to Six students on October 25, at least six schools have been reported to have had COVID-19 outbreaks.

Addressing the issue yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said the reason for this is because there was no systematic plan to deal with dispensing education under the pandemic.

“There must be a coming together of minds to plan for the reopening,” Tekah-De Freitas said.

The reported schools with outbreaks include Iere High School, Mason Hall Secondary School, St Augustine Girls’ High, Bishop Anstey High School East & Trinity College East and Signal Hill Secondary School.

Since October 4, there have been 55 confirmed cases of COVID within the secondary school system.

Speaking at a University of the West Indies’ (UWI) virtual webinar titled Managing the National Education System, Tekah-De Freitas said the Minister of Education’s “if all goes well” attitude on the possible reopening of schools for Forms One to Three in January does not build confidence in the system.

“We cannot say it’s business as usual,” she said during the discussion, which was hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES).

The TTUTA president said schools being closed as soon as there was an outbreak showed that the education system in the last two years had not transitioned from emergency mitigation strategies to a more long-term solution. She said this disruption does not do well for students, especially those preparing for Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exams and CXC.

“We have to take stock of the lessons. The pandemic has shown how inadequate our education system is to be resilient, adaptable and agile,” she said.

Planning Coordinator in the Planning Department of the Tobago House of Assembly, Bobby Andrews, added that there were layers to the concept of herd immunity. He said disruption at schools will continue if there isn’t herd immunity at these institutions and at homes.

“I am confident the real issue is vaccination…In two weeks 11 schools were closed, nothing will be different this time,” Andrews said.

The panellists in the approximately three-hour discussion also touched on the emotional and mental trauma the pandemic has put on parents, teachers and students.

“A teacher cried herself to sleep at night after her audio failed,” UWI Administrator/Educator Dr Sabeerah Abdul-Majied said.

Homeschooling and learning loss, meanwhile, were only issues that can only be assessed when the students return to school for in-person assessments, Associate Professor of History at the University of the Southern Caribbean, Dr Fiona Rajkumar, said.

“Parents doing their children’s work. So you give an assessment. You are seeing handwriting that is clearly not the children,” she explained.

High levels of absenteeism was another factor of learning loss, Rajkumar noted.

SALISES plans to have another discussion on December 3.