Flashback 2019: Jubilant SEA students from Richmond Street Boys A.C. Primary School celebrate after receiving their results.

With almost three weeks left to go before the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) is administered on July 1 – the Ministry of Education (MoE) is facing a shortfall in the numbers of testers and supervisors required for the exam.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly confirmed yesterday this as she said, “The opportunity has been opened up to secondary school teachers to volunteer as SEA testers.”

Assuring that all preparations for the exam are on track, she said, “Getting teachers to volunteer for SEA administration is annually difficult and made a bit more so this year because of the COVID situation, even though those registered to work have been offered vaccination.”

She said the effects of this move will be realised this week.

This is second consecutive year that the ministry has been forced to explore unusual methods of attracting people to invigilate the “high stakes” exam.

Just after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in T&T in 2020, Cabinet was forced to accept a recommendation to offer a stipend to the different categories of invigilators which included Assessment Supervisors who received $500 per day; Assistant Assessment Supervisors who received $450 per day; and Testers who received $400 per day.

The three categories of persons would have been paid the stipends to offset the loss of two days of their vacation leave.

Even though teaching personnel along with school administrative workers are among the priority groups currently being vaccinated, there continues to be hesitancy by some to come forward and accept what is on offer.

NAPSPA: It’s a crisis within a crisis

Head of the National Primary Schools Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) Carlene Hayes described the move to offer secondary school teachers an opportunity to invigilate the exam as outside of the norm.

She said a vaccine was not a guarantee that a person would not contract the virus, and “Even though some teachers are getting the vaccine, there are some persons who are still hesitant to come out to work on the day of the SEA exam.”

During phase one of the vaccination drive for teachers which began on May 27 – principals; teachers whose names had been submitted to invigilate the SEA exam; school supervisors; and business operations assistants would have received vaccines.

Phase two of the vaccination drive which began on June 1 was expanded to include all teachers and other school personnel.

Hayes said principals usually ask their teachers to come out to assist, but following Monday’s announcement as to the highly transmissible Brazilian variant being dominant among the local population – she said persons were even more fearful about interacting and congregating with others now.

In addition to battling the COVID-19 pandemic, the NAPSPA head said the challenge now was whether or not secondary school teachers would take up the offer by the MoE to become invigilators or if a stipend would need to be offered as an inducement.

Hayes speculated that if both these measures failed, the MoE may be left with no other alternative but to recruit external invigilators which is similar to what is done by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) when they administer exams.

It is believed that some persons who would have worked during the 2020 SEA exam are yet to receive their monies – and Hayes said this could work against the MoE this time around.

Revealing just how dire the situation is, she said some school principals had been receiving requests from persons wanting to withdraw as centre managers.

Hayes added, “Teachers are scared to come out and supervise, and unless cases go down dramatically and people can see the deaths declining, even the offer of finances might not be a lure.”

Meanwhile, Hayes said in the midst of all this – there are parents and students who have expressed concerns about being ill-prepared.

Concerns have also surfaced that some parents may not be truthful with the authorities as to their quarantine status, and may allow their child to come and write the exam despite the threat of possible exposure “just to get it over and done with.”

And equally, she said, “There are some parents who will be scared to send their child to school to write the exam because they are scared their child will get the virus from someone else.”

If for any reason a student is unable to write the SEA exam as scheduled on July 1 – a re-sit will be done on July 21 which is in keeping with the general practice.

NCPTA: Some pupils feel they are not ready

Sitting in a virtual class with SEA students from a primary school in central Trinidad yesterday in order to get feedback on how they feel about the exam, it was found that the, “majority feels scared.”

Public relations officer of the, National Council of the Parent Teacher Association (NCPTA) Shamila Raheem said, “The children want bigger spaces around them, utilising more classrooms and having more supervisors.”

She said, “Some feel they are not ready. Some feel they are not getting enough education because they are not in school. Some are frustrated with the date change and just want the exam over with.”

Voicing concerns about students whose families are COVID-compromised, Raheem said consideration also had to be paid to the fact that some children could be asymptomatic and unknowingly infect others.

SEA parent support group: Bring on the exam

The SEA Parent Support Group said based on feedback received from members, “They are expecting strict protocols in place on the day of the exam.”

Rachiel Ramsamooj said, “Overall, parents are not concerned about spread of the virus on that day. The teachers have been working with parents to practice mask-wearing during mock exams. There is little to no concern whether teachers are vaccinated or not. There is a general feeling of hope that the exam will be executed safely and incident free.”

She said concerns had arisen as to persons needing to access public transport to and from school – and the threat of possible exposure en route.