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Photo source: Fatima College - Trinidad & Tobago

Now that the Ministry of Education (MoE) has directed that all students of Forms 4-6 return to face-to-face classes, the message of personal responsibility and heightened vigilance will be reiterated as unvaccinated and vaccinated students will be together from Monday, October 25. Students of Forms 1-3 or equivalent are projected to return to physical classrooms in January 2022.

Fully vaccinated students in Forms 4-6 were allowed to return to school from October 4. According to data collected by the MoE as of October 10, 30 per cent of the Forms 4-6 cohort was fully vaccinated, 34 per cent of denominational schools reported more than 50 per cent of their Forms 4-6 students fully vaccinated, while one per cent of government schools indicated the same.

Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management Sharon Mangroo said the children in Forms 4-6 are in the older age group and would have to take a “good deal of responsibility for their own safety”. She, however, added that “special drills” may be needed at schools for all to understand this as well as be mindful of the health and safety of others.

Education Minister Nyan Gadsby-Dolly held a media briefing Wednesday, October 20 to announce “all students of Forms 4-6 or equivalent, regardless of vaccination status, are required to attend school physically for teaching classes, practicals and School-Based Assessments (SBAs) from Monday 25th October 2021.” The Ministry has instructed that schools are not required to provide online classes “or synchronous sessions” in lieu of students who do not attend physical classes. “All students are expected to attend school physically.” Schools have been directed to place special focus at this time on the completion of practicals and SBAs for students of Forms 4-6.

Mangroo explained in an interview that the unvaccinated children who did not complete their SBAs and Internal Assessments (IAs) were liable to fail months before they wrote their Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency (CAPE) exams next year. The SBAs and IAs have to be done over time and be supervised. “You have to be certain of the children’s work, for the assessment to be valid the teacher has to be there,” Mangroo said.

The Ministry provided an analysis of the results of the Secondary Entrance Assessment and CXC examinations which showed decreases in performance. In the SEA, 1.5 per cent more students scored over 90 per cent when compared with 2020, however, 6.7 per cent more students scored under 30 per cent. The results of CXC released on October 15, showed 7 per cent less students obtained five CSEC passes or more in 2021 than in 2020; and 1.3 per cent less acceptable grades were achieved in CAPE 2021 when compared with 2020. The Ministry said in a media release, “One of the main factors in arresting any decline in student achievement during this pandemic is the safe return of all our students to the physical classroom for more effective teaching and learning.”

Prior to the Ministry’s announcement, Mangroo said Catholic secondary school principals as well as the chairs of their respective Education Boards met with the Archbishop last Thursday (October 14). As a result of the discussions, she wrote to the MoE on behalf of the Catholic secondary schools expressing concern about the unvaccinated students who were not allowed in school, doing their SBAs, IAs which are required to pass many of the CSEC and CAPE exams.

A registered student who does not submit their SBA/IA can be receive “Ungraded – SBA/IA component not received” from CXC. An alternative paper in place of SBA/IA requirement is available for private candidates doing CSEC and CAPE but not presently accessible to students attending full-time education institutions.

Responding to the Ministry’s announcement of the return of the Forms 1-3, next year, Mangroo told the Catholic News, “We had also pointed out that the addition of Forms 1-3 students would result in the loss of in-school participation for the exam classes, and recommended that this phase be deferred to allow principals time to evaluate the first phase, and plan for the second.”

Mangroo was also concerned with the Ministry’s “no online teaching” statement, since the Covid-19 physical distance protocol means some schools have to rotate their Form 4-6 and some online teaching will be needed for those on home rotation. This was subsequently, clarified. Mangroo told the Catholic News that online classes had not been banned. “What has been removed is the requirement that online classes be provided for students who do not want to attend school physically”.

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