Antonia Tekah-De Freitas

Putting students to write examinations in July after the COVID-19 lockdown is “inhumane,” says President of the T&T Unified Teachers Association Antonia Tekah-De Freitas.

In a statement, Tekah-De Freitas said the Ministry of Education should not assume that students were in a state of readiness for examinations as many of them were not ready for exams.

Saluting teachers for their contribution during the closure of schools since March 13, Tekah-De Freitas said, “Although TTUTA pleaded with the Ministry to consider the readiness of all pupils to comfortably and confidently sit these examinations, these entreaties have fallen on deaf ears.”

She added, “ TTUTA reasserts its positions that the efforts of our educators to facilitate emergency remote teaching were an ad hoc, emergency measure in this time of crisis. Not all students would have been engaged, for a range of reasons. It is therefore unfair for the Ministry of Education to presume that all students would be in a state of preparedness to do the examinations.”

She added, “Having students return to school to go immediately into ‘examination mode’, without first attending to the psychosocial needs of the students is inhumane.”

“ To ensure that all students have a fair chance of success at the examination, students should be given enough time to interact with their teachers to allow for the completion of School-Based Assessments (SBAs) and receive the necessary support for examination preparation,” Tekah-De Freitas added.

“Administering the CSEC and CAPE examinations in July 2020 will only serve to exacerbate the inequalities experienced by students who were not involved in emergency remote learning due to lack of devices, lack of internet access, or who experienced psychosocial challenges,” she explained.

“ The ‘stay at home’ measures instituted by the state for public safety had diverse impacts on different sectors of society. The welfare of many should not be sacrificed for the self-interests of some. TTUTA is not convinced that all systems are properly in place for the sanitisation and repopulation of secondary schools,” she added.

She also said that although the Ministry of Education officials indicated that the procurement of cleaning agents was still at the tender stage, it was expected that the supply and distribution of cleaning materials will be done prior to the repopulation of schools.

“While there was mention of thermal screening and guidelines for social distancing, no tangible information has been provided on the competent Ministry of Health personnel who will be deployed to the secondary schools to support the screening process. The presence of ancillary and support staff of schools will also be required, in order to clean and prepare the classrooms and other areas of the compound,” she added.

The provision of personal protective equipment, as well as other health protocols, must be in place in secondary schools before principals, teachers and students return to the various compounds, Tekah-De Freitas said.

She noted that Education professionals (supervisors, guidance officers, school social workers, curriculum officers, principals, teachers) have not been designated as ‘essential services’ required to be on schools’ compounds, under the current Public Health Regulations.

“ Public servants who returned to work during Phase Three of the reopening were identified as personnel allowed to return to work. Education professionals must be granted official permission from the Ministry of Health to return to the compounds of secondary schools if they are to support students in their preparations for the examinations,” Tekah-De Freitas said.

She also explained that Public Health Regulations currently allow only five persons in a space.

Tekah-De Freitas expressed concerns for those students who would not be able to write exams if they have flu-like conditions.

“What are the legal implications of denying a student the right to participate in the examinations? During what period will students receive laptops, if examinations are to be done in July?” she asked.

The TTUTA president noted that if T&T intends to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 of the United Nations, the government must ensure that quality education is sustained and that all students are treated equitably within the education system.