The Ministry of Education wishes to announce a change in date of the SEA, formerly scheduled for June 10th, 2021. This has become necessary due to the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing challenges posed by the Health regulations at this time.
During initial stakeholder consultations held on April 22nd, 2021, the COVID-19 7-day average for Trinidad and Tobago was 89, with new cases at 81. Due to concerns about the safety of face-to-face interactions with those numbers of positive cases, and taking into consideration the students who had been working diligently towards having SEA on that date, the decision was taken to leave the examination on June 10th, with the clear understanding that physical preparation classes were not likely, and the desire to cause the least disruption possible to these students who have already been through a challenging time over the past 14 months.
When this decision was announced on April 28th, the numbers had increased from 81 to 223 with a 7-day average of 136, up from 89. As we speak today, there has been an even more rapid increase in the infection rate of the virus, with new infections reported at over 600 in recent daily updates, and a current 7-day average as high as 478.
The government has put strict and robust measures in place to reduce the COVID-19 numbers; and the Ministry of Education, along with the rest of the country, has been monitoring the COVID-19 numbers daily to gauge how quickly the decrease would be realised; as we all acknowledged that the exam could only proceed in an atmosphere of safety for all stakeholders. This remains the government’s first priority.
On August 20th, 2020, when the last SEA examination was held, the number of infections reported was 81, with a 7-day average of 52. Compare that to our present numbers of 501 and a 7-day average approximating 478, and it is clear that the 3 weeks left to the scheduled June 10th date for SEA will likely not be enough to allow for the level of decrease needed to achieve an atmosphere of reasonable safety in which to implement the examination.
In the consultations of April 2021, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA); Principal and Parent Associations, along with Denominational Boards agreed that a reasonable alternative to the June 10th date for SEA was July 1st, 6 weeks from today, which, based on the current regulations, should allow the elapse of enough time for the rate of infections and active cases to be reduced to a level deemed reasonably safe for the conduct of the examination.
Additionally, in 6 weeks time, with the second phase of the vaccination program well underway, the level of vaccinations among the population should be much higher. Teachers who are, and will be, in closest or repeated physical contact with students have been targeted as a priority group, and the Ministry of Health will accommodate this subset of teachers for priority vaccination. Further discussions will be held with TTUTA on this issue.
Therefore, based on the health considerations as explained, and mindful of the mixed views on the matter of the SEA date, and with the number one priority being the safety of our citizens, the government has taken the decision that the SEA should be postponed to Thursday, July 1st, 2021.
While the examinations are important, and all preparations are being made for their safe conduct, they are not more important than the health of the population; and the latter will not be sacrificed for the sake of the former.
The Ministry of Education continues to collaborate closely with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), the Ministry of Health and other public sector agencies, to ensure the safety and protection of all concerned.
It should be noted that CXC was written to on April 23rd, 2021, in light of the rapid uptick in COVID-19 positive cases, to alert them to a possible date shift, and the schedule was also, at that time, reworked to accommodate that possibility.
The Ministry of Education is therefore on track with all preparations, and the results of the SEA are expected to be released in the second week of September to facilitate the placement of students in secondary schools by the third week of September.