Add to the increasing number of people on the receiving end of the worst of this third wave of COVID-19 in T&T, the more than 19,800 SEA candidates who must endure a delay of at least three weeks before they can write the exam.
This is an additional burden to youngsters, who are already enduring considerable dislocation and disruption at an important stage in their education journey.
Almost all their preparations for the exam have been taking place remotely— a process that has been particularly difficult for those SEA students lacking the requisite devices and connectively to participate in online classes.
But the rapid increase in the COVID-19 infection rate, with 558 new cases bringing the total number of active cases in the country to 6,998 yesterday, left education authorities with no other choice.
So, for yet another year, an examination that is already a difficult, anxiety-inducing experience for students and their parents, comes with added pressure from the pandemic.
Last year, students were due to sit the SEA exam on April 2, but it had to be postponed after the country recorded its first COVID-19 cases in March. The exam was rescheduled to August 20.
This time, concerns were raised last month when there was a dramatic surge in the number of new cases. The T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) advised its members not to risk their health and safety by going out to schools if they have not been vaccinated.
Then the National Council of Parent Teachers’ Association (NCPTA) called for the exam to be postponed or cancelled altogether.
The original June 10 for the 2021 exam was announced after consultations between the Ministry of Education and education stakeholders, including TTUTA, principals, teachers, parents and students.
The prevailing view then was that students would be able to benefit from a few weeks of in-person classes before the examination.
Last July, there were a few days of face-to-face classes in-person classes before that plan had to be abandoned when COVID-19 cases began to increase. However, this time, there has been no opportunity for any direct interaction between the SEA candidates and their teachers. This alone must be exacting a toll on the youngsters.
While the priority must be the physical safety and protection of the students, as well as ensuring they can write the exam in a safe and secure environment, some attention must also be paid to their mental and emotional well-being.
Most of these youngsters are anxious to get the SEA exam over with after going through a few years of intense study.
Therefore, education stakeholders, who have been engaged in discussions with the Education Ministry that have not always been cordial, should agree on the most pain-free ways to administer the upcoming exams.
Support is also needed from the wider community. For the SEA exam to take place on July 1, there must be a significant decrease in the number of active COVID-19 cases so that it will be safe for students and teachers to venture out to the various exam centres.
Do it for the sake of the children.