The various stakeholders who agreed yesterday to press ahead with SEA exams on August 20 must have left the meeting with fingers crossed.
With two schools already shut down by pupils infected with the novel coronavirus Covid-19 and the country seeming to enter a new and worrying stage of infection, education officials, parents, teachers, principals and school managers must all be concerned about whether they are doing the right thing in sending children to school in preparation for the exam.
Given the almost daily reports of new Covid-19 cases of undetermined origin, this cannot be the ideal time to commit to any schedule.
While the meeting cited the psychosocial effect that a postponement would have on pupils, one can also imagine the anxiety of the 11- and 12-year-olds who go to class having heard of the developments that resulted in schools in Maraval and Tacarigua being shut down and scores of pupils being put into quarantine. Weighing the risks and benefits of sticking to the schedule could not have been easy, given that the key variable regarding viral spread remains unknown.
We note with concern that the statement put out by the Ministry of Education did not include any public health official among those attending yesterday’s meeting and would hope that it nonetheless had the benefit of expert health input.
We are in an evolving situation in which important indicators have changed since the decision was taken to schedule the exam on August 20.
While further postponement would create logistical and management challenges, all parties, especially parents, would want to be assured that they are sending their children into a school environment that is safe and protected from Covid-19. Clearly, that has not been the case and there remains no guarantee that it will be so over the next three weeks.
To a great degree, the protection of SEA pupils lies in the hands of the adults around them. The two pupils who tested positive for Covid-19 are believed to have contracted it from the adults around them. Sadly, it is the adults who are letting them down along with the rest of us.
All over the country there are the signs that we have let our guard down against the deadly coronavirus. Just when infection may be entering its most dangerous phase of community spread, the state of national alert that initially helped to limit infection has been relaxed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the political campaigns being conducted by those seeking to lead the country. It is disgraceful to see politicians campaigning without masks, shaking hands, hugging supporters, disrespecting the requirement for social distancing and assembly, and even entering people’s homes with throngs of supporters.
In the current environment, masks should be made mandatory for anyone out in public and the Police Service should enforce the regulations about assembly and distancing. If political parties and others refuse to comply, then the size of gatherings should again be reduced.
The coronavirus could not have chosen a more challenging time to rear its head again. With 12 days to go before the August 10 general election, an unchecked environment could push T&T back into lockdown. We cannot afford that.