Flashback: St Augustine Secondary School students return to school during the reopening for senior students.

Following the announcement by the Ministry of Education (MOE) that only secondary school students in Forms Four to Six will return to the physical classroom when schools reopen on April 12 – several national education stakeholders signalled their agreement with the decision as they believe this is in the best interest of the primary school population.

Anticipating that Standard Five students would not have returned as anticipated due to the recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases, Public Relations Officer of the National Council Parent Teacher Association (NCPTA), Shamila Raheem said, “It is the best decision for our children right now as we see a rise in the COVID-19 cases and we would not want to put our young ones at risk.”

Indicating that a return to school two months before for this cohort of students who are scheduled to write the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam on June 10, was “not cutting it in the first place” – Raheem added, “I think it is a good decision as our children’s health and safety is of utmost importance.”

Pressed to say if the association had been predicting any fall-out as a result, she said, “Not so much disruption in terms of the SEA exam as children are already settled in. In terms of homeschooling, that has been going on and parents, teachers and students are all well adjusted to that situation.”

Admitting a return to school might have caused a bigger disruption in terms of health and safety, Raheem urged citizens to follow the Public Health Regulations as she said, “The children are very frustrated at home.”

Disappointed by the irresponsible behaviour displayed by some adults, she continued, “They don’t think about what can happen when they don’t practice proper safety measures and it has resulted in the children losing out on their schooling.”

To the adults, she appealed, “Be more responsible and mature and don’t go around lackadaisical and not caring because our children are suffering. The education system is down right now and we need all the help and support to get it back on track.”

Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) President, Antonia Tekah-De Freitas agreed with Raheem as she too said irresponsible behaviour had reversed the positive strides made thus far to stem the spread of the virus.

She said, “The lack thereof is what has brought us to this point so we are urging our citizens to do what is necessary in order to abide by the public health regulations so that we can have all of our students safe at school to prepare for the examination. Even if the ministry is saying the Standard Five students will not be out at this time, we expect that Forms Four to Six students will be out to prepare for their exams. If the situation gets worse, their preparation may be stymied as well.”

President of the National Primary Schools Principals Association (NAPSPA), Carlene Hayes said the decision not to have Standard Five students return to the physical classroom was indeed, “In the best interest of our students based on the steady rise of positive COVID-19 cases within the last few weeks.”

Promising to engage the MOE along with TTUTA, to ensure devices continue to be distributed to those students writing exams later this year – she said renewed efforts will also be made to ensure principals receive adequate supplies such as ink and toner for their printers, and paper to facilitate the preparation of packages for students to collect.

Praying for the speedy recovery of the Prime Minister who has been diagnosed with the virus, Hayes added her voice to those calling on people to act responsibly moving forward so as to avoid any further disruptions.