Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley replies to a question during yesterday’s sitting of Parliament.

Parents and students want the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam to be held early – and Government’s willing to spend $20 million to hold it in August if that’s what it takes to get students into schools, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday.

He made the comment in Parliament while replying to Opposition MP David Lee’s question on whether Government would consider the T&T Unified Teachers’ Association’s (TTUTA) call to have the exam in October instead of August 20 to allow students to acclimatise when they return to school and get ready, and it would serve their best interest.

Rowley said the first part of the 2021 school term will be lost to students if Government implements TTUTA’s recommendation. He said the issue concerns a lot of stakeholders, of which TTUA is one.

“We have parents, denominational bodies and students and the wider community,” he said, adding the Education Ministry had canvassed opinions of all involved and TTUTA’s was a main say in the issue.

Two competing positions were arrived at: having exams early as parents and students supported; or having it in October as TTUTA wanted.

Rowley said if exams are held in October it would mean losing the first term of 2021 and no student placement would be done in the first term. If it is done in August, he said it’s possible to have minimal loss of term time and get students placed.

“So there’s an option to try and save it,” he said.

Rowley said Government was prepared to listen but a decision had to be made at the end of the day.

“What should affect us is whether TTUTA will co-operate with the rest of T&T to ensure students’ interest come first,” he said, noting his understanding is that if exams are done in August the “vast majority of school-age students won’t be affected and will return to school with some semblance of normalcy.”

He said those affected by exams may be disadvantaged for only about six weeks and then would be placed and could start the first school term a little late – but the school year would be saved.

On queries about starting COVID safety procedure conditions for school, Rowley said it will be addressed – but it can’t be the basis for making decisions not to have exams.

On further query on whether it’s prudent to spend $20m to prepare for the August exams, Rowley said, “Yes, if that’s what it takes to get students in school … people stole more money than that … if we have to spend it on teachers to get students into schools, we’re not apologising for that.”

He said he hoped it wasn’t true that TTUTA had rejected stipends for teachers to work over August. Rowley asked if teachers were saying they’re not prepared to work in the vacation period even if they will be paid.

“Parents and students should know that…we’re saying we’re all in the COVID situation together and we’re dealing with it together and have to make sacrifices…so if they do (not work) it will be very disappointing,” he said.

He also rubbished claims that less than 30 per cent of students couldn’t access internet services. He said Education Ministry information came from principals and other stakeholders. He acknowledged some would have difficulties to access this due to discipline or other reasons but said he’d leave it to the ministry to determine the logistics of UNC MP Fuad Khan’s proposal to have phased-in access for students. On Khan’s request to give “free laptops” to those who can’t afford cellphones, Rowley said he wasn’t aware of “free laptops.”