Even though today will be the second time the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam is being administered during the COVID-19 pandemic and under even stricter regulations, school officials have assured that all systems are in place and careful planning has led to preparations being implemented for any eventuality which may arise during the day.

The National Primary Schools Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) yesterday reinforced, “The health and safety of all students, teachers and principals will be top priority.”

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly will visit two primary schools in San Juan and Port-of-Spain this morning, where she is expected to view the preparations in place for the exam which will be three hours and 20 minutes long.

NAPSPA President Carlene Hayes assured, “All principals have tried their best to put certain systems in place and these systems/protocols are based on the Ministry of Health’s recommendations.”

“These systems are intended to protect the students and by extension their families as well as the staff at the school, and their families.”

Addressing the parents and guardians of the 19,656 students registered to write today’s exam which begins at 8.30 am, Hayes acknowledged there were some who were happy and relieved that the exam which had been postponed once before, had finally materialised while there were others who were afraid to send their children off this morning.

She urged both sets of persons to re-emphasise the three W’s to their children to wear their mask, wash their hands, and watch their distance.

Regarding the pre-entry protocol which includes a questionnaire for parents to fill out as they drop off their child, the NAPSPA head appealed to persons to answer “honestly and accurately.”

The one-page document consists of four questions that seek to ascertain if the student or anyone in his/her family has experienced symptoms during the last 14 days, including fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, nausea/vomiting, cough, headache, diarrhoea, fatigue, loss of taste/smell, runny nose, and shortness of breath.

Additionally, the questionnaire aims to find out if people have been placed in self-isolation or subjected to a quarantine order; and if the student or the family has been in contact with anyone who is COVID-19 positive within the last 14 days.

Proof of release is also required from those who were under quarantine.

Meanwhile, last-minute sanitisation exercises were completed yesterday at primary schools as Magic Mist provided complimentary defogging services.

At the Sacred Heart Girls RC School, Port-of-Spain, principal Vanessa Yearwood assured all measures had been put in place which included setting the desks six feet apart; ensuring wall-mounted sanitising machines were filled; and a sickbay set up.

Revealing that contact tracing forms for the 103 girls writing the exam at her school had already been distributed, she said, “Our girls will be masked.”

Yearwood said teachers had been constantly reminding the girls that even though they had not seen each other in months and would be excited this morning, hugging was “a big no-no.”

It was much the same at the Rosary Boys RC School, Port-of-Spain, where principal Richard Gomez said they had been operating in a similar mode for some time.

Seeking to allay the fears of anxious parents regarding COVID-19 protocols, he said the 93 boys writing the exam in his school had adapted well to the new normal and would not flout the regulations.

Shamila Raheem of The Movement for Concerned PTA Parents, urged the pupils to hold on for just a bit longer as she said, “For the past year, you were faced with many challenges, especially with the new learning system. You have risen to those challenges and came out as shining stars. Remember this exam is not the end, but rather the beginning of an interesting journey. Be focused, be calm, be dedicated. Put God first in anything you do and all things are possible with his guidance and blessings.”

She told them, “We have full faith and confidence in your ability to succeed. Go make us proud as we continue to cheer you on.”

This year’s exam has seen a reduction in the content and curriculum coverage as well as in the number of items that have been placed on the paper.

Pupils will be tested in the areas of English Language Arts Writing (50 minutes); Mathematics (75 minutes); and English Language Arts (75 minutes) – with a 30-minute break.

Approximately 9,905 males are registered to write today’s exam; as opposed to 9,751 females.

The number of pupils writing the SEA exam in Tobago stands at 1,064; while 18,592 pupils are registered in Trinidad.

A total of 553 examination centres will be in use, while 445 concessions have been granted to special needs pupils.

Approximately 3,919 supervisory staff has been assigned to schools, comprised mainly of teachers and administrators totalling 3,735.

Approximately 183 deferral applications were received, of which 176 have been granted.

Students who will attain the age of 15 before September 1, 2021, were not eligible for deferral. And where the request for deferral was not granted, the main reason cited was a lack of physical space.

A snack will be provided to the pupils today by the National School Dietary Services Limited (NSDSL).