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Preparations continue for SEA exam

After only 13 days back at school, Standard Five pupils preparing for the August 20 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) had to return to virtual classes.

Pupils of primary schools tested positive for COVID-19 leading to the closure of at least nine schools. There are 483 government and denominational primary schools in the country.

At a press briefing August 5 Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that children would have to complete their preparation for exams at home.

“We went through the data step by step, line by line and we came to the conclusion that we would not continue with that experiment of bringing those SEA children out.” He urged parents to do whatever was possible to help their children prepare for the exam.

An official of an east Port of Spain school said the decision to suspend classes was a “good decision”. They explained as the exam date drew closer, a consequence of continuing classes at schools meant if more cases were detected and schools closed more children would be quarantined and miss the exam. The principal stated the 17 children were “very restless” upon their return to the school.

“To get the students into the new routine of school after being away four months including social distancing was a bit of a challenge for the first few days. Use of meditation and prayer helped reduce restlessness.”

The teachers got the pupils to discuss their fears and concerns and gave continued guidance on leaning on God fully to cope in the present time of uncertainty.

Staff of the Ministry’s Student Support Services Division and non-governmental organisations assisted in keeping students calm. The school official said with the abrupt end of classes at school, the Standard Five teacher left practice test booklets with the security for students to collect.

These will be corrected via Zoom by the class teacher. “Classes will continue this week via Zoom and Konnect Social. On the week of the SEA, the students will be engaged in lighter, more relaxing activities.”

Having the children at school provided the opportunity to plan “more effectively” for the return of the whole school population in September. Hand washing and temperature checks were part of the daily routine.

A school official at a Catholic primary school located in Caroni said the students needed to be out and focused on the exam. They were excited to see their friends so social distancing had to be reinforced and wearing their masks if they were less than six feet apart.

“Face-to-face” contact with a teacher was very beneficial to provide explanations and clarifications, reinforcement of concepts right away, especially for those pupils who lacked devices and internet access.

At home they will continue revision using practice test booklets which would have to be dropped at the school, corrected by the teacher, and collected by parents. This was “not as effective as if they were in class”. There are 19 children being prepared.

The Ministry of Education had a meeting with education interest groups July 28 to discuss the way forward after the first set of COVID-19 cases were confirmed in school children.

A release from the ministry stated, “stakeholders in education have agreed to keep the date of the 2020 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) as August 20th citing the socio and psychological effects on students”.

Stakeholders had “divergent views” on the continuation of physical classes with some concerned about health and safety and others advocating schools remain open to mitigate further psychological impact on students.

The Ministry had agreed to assess the situation before announcing a decision. Dialogue on bringing forward the SEA date identified logistical challenges with the limited time in which to request deferrals from the Ministry of National Security for the Caribbean Examination Council testers, and the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country.

Represented at the virtual meeting were Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association, National Primary Schools Principals Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, Association of Denominational Boards, Private Primary Schools Principals Association, Association of Principals of Assisted Secondary Schools, Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools, the National Advisory Committee on Education and  the Private Special Schools Association. —LPG