A woman washes her hand before voting at the San Fernando Methodist Primary School on Monday.

The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) said while it is satisfied with the efforts that have so far been made by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to sanitize and restore schools that were used as polling stations during Monday’s election – there are schools that have are yet to be cleaned.

TTUTA President Antonia Tekah-De Freitas yesterday said, “In some instances, they contracted the MTS of the school where those are available, to assist with the sanitization and restoration. And in some other instances, they contracted the ancillary staff such as the cleaners at the schools to assist.”

“However, we have had reports that it has not been done in all schools as yet.”

Tekah-De Freitas said they are hoping the exercise will be completed by the end of this week in time for the administration of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam on August 20.

Regarding the issue of external invigilators to supervise the SEA exam next Thursday, Tekah-De Freitas confirmed that a circular had been sent out inviting both teachers and other persons to, “perform those duties so they would have to go one day for training and on the day of the exam to do the invigilation.”

As far as the preparations for the reopening of the new school term in September, the TTUTA head said, “We know the new academic year will bring some challenges in terms of the proposed approach of blended learning that being students in school physically for some time, and then doing online interaction with their teachers at other times. However, we await further discussions with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders on this.”

Reflecting on what transpired between the time that students returned to schools on July 20 to when TTUTA advised teachers to remain at home on August 3 – Tekah-De Freitas admitted, “We saw some gaps in terms of what the Ministry of Health (MOH) proposed as protocols for schools, so we are making recommendations to try and close those gaps and once we meet with the new minister and stakeholders, we will discuss this among other issues.”

Waiting for the new Cabinet to be sworn in, Tekah-De Freitas is hoping this meeting will take place by next week.

Questioned how TTUTA was advising teachers to embrace the new normal as it related to social distancing students and ensuring the wearing of face masks – she said they were adhering to the guidelines outlined by the MOH.

She acknowledged the issue of social distancing among students at the pre-school, primary and even secondary levels; remained one of utmost concern after teachers reported a need for greater compliance by students.

Tekah-De Freitas said increased public sensitization was needed to reinforce the public health regulations in a manner that was easily understandable and reader-friendly for the students.

She said, “We will have to wait to see how discussions turn out between the MOE and stakeholders when we meet. TTUTA cannot pre-empt anything. We know there are changes to be made to the original guidelines that were proposed but it has to be guided by the MOH and from what we saw when the students went out.”

For example, she explained that the MOH had directed that a daily log be kept of the names of all the students and their temperatures upon arrival at school. This, she claimed, had prompted questions as to who would now fulfil this role as it required additional personnel to be assigned to each school.

Tekah-De Freitas said concerns had also arisen from both students and teachers who are immuno-compromised and the level of exposure they would face upon returning to school.

Additionally, she said the advent of social distancing in classrooms and teachers not being able to move about as freely as before – they would now have to throw their voices further to catch the attention of students seated at the back and ensure that no student is left behind in terms of the curriculum content.

Asked how they also intended to address those parents who are scared of sending their children back to school and what it would mean for these students, Tekah-De Freitas said, “One of the considerations going forward must be that as we engage in blended learning where we have the online and face-to-face teaching, the expectation of the outcome has to be different.”

“The expectation of what we assess and how we assess it must be different. It cannot be that we will sit down and expect that six weeks virtual learning at home and six weeks of physical classroom time…we cannot expect to have the same kind of outcomes for that 12-week period as if we had a full 12-weeks of physical interaction.”

She said in the case of a parent fearful of sending their child back to school, “We must have provisions for the student to adequately be engaged in the virtual teaching and learning process. However, the question of access to devices and connectivity is a concern here, and there will now be a greater role for the parents to play as they will have to ensure the student does what the teacher requires him/her to do at the level of the classroom, so all these discussions must take place.”

Tekah-De Freitas said it was not the first time that TTUTA has called for adjustments in the curriculum content to be delivered in the new academic year; as well as the need for adjustments in assessments of standardized exams such as SEA and CSEC and CAPE.

She went on, “These are considerations we must have going forward for the new academic year.”

Referring to the discussions that have already begun with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) on how they would be approaching the 2021 exams, Tekah-De Freitas said, “We have to do the same internally so that is something that has to change going forward.”