Primary school students get extra day off ahead of SEA

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Zane Sooknanan, 11, right, with his mother Davina Sooknanan and his
father Malcolm Sooknanan. PHOTO BY RISHARD KHAN

ALL primary schools and private candidate centres will be closed and locked down from midday Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s Secondary Entrance Assessment, a memo to schools from the Chief Education Officer said on Monday.

Newsday was unable to get a comment on what prompted the move from Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly. However, it comes two weeks after a bomb threat forced the evacuation of hundreds of teachers and students at schools in South Eastern Trinidad.

The memo said students would be dismissed at 11.30 am on Tuesday and there would not be classes on Wednesday to facilitate safety checks.

“Security personnel will be conducting visual inspections of the school premises on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Principals and vice principals/senior teachers are required to be present to facilitate access to the school building and examination rooms.

“Note only authorised personnel will be allowed on the school premises for the examination period.”

The school term officially closes on March 22.

TT Unified Teachers’ Association president Martin Lum Kin described the move as “highly irregular.”

“We have not had that situation in the past,” he said.

Typically, he said, students are given half-day off the day before the exam to allow for classes to be rearranged for the test. Lum Kin said the day and a half off for students had disrupted principals’ plans for the last week of the school term.

Additionally, he said TTUTA was not consulted and the vague memo left them with questions and speculations.

The memo also gave protocols to be followed in the event of an emergency, however, the measures all surrounded a security threat as they revolved around contacting the police.

Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Secretary General Vijay Maharaj believes the unprecedented move is to ensure the exam goes off without a hitch.

“Our schools are in a very safe position…we feel very confident that all is going to be well but you have some crazies outside there that are liable to call in bomb threats at schools.”

On Thursday morning, an estimated 18,250 students will sit the exam. Some of these children, and their parents are hoping to use this extra time away from the classroom to squeeze in some final work before the exam.

Montrose Government Primary School student Zane Sooknanan, 11, dreams of one day becoming a pilot.

Typically a top performer in his class, he hopes to pass for his first choice school Presentation College Chaguanas.

His mother, Davina, said they would be using the time away from class to review some of the questions he had issues with during his practice tests.

“Even if he had school on Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting much to be done then given that the teachers would be organising the classroom for SEA the next day.

“So I wasn’t expecting a lot of work to be covered on Wednesday and then also, at his school on Tuesday morning, they have an interfaith service, so I wasn’t expecting any school work to be covered after that. So I was planning to pick him up on half-day on Tuesday anyways.

“I would use adversity as an opportunity to review any errors he would have made.”

Similarly, Robert Village Hindu School student Kaylee Joseph, 11, said she would use Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning for light studying. However, she said she would use Wednesday afternoon to relax and spend time with her family before the exam.

Her mother, Kadie, said she was pleased with having a half-day of school on Tuesday, however, she would have preferred her daughter to be in school on Wednesday so she could familiarise herself with the new seating arrangements.

“So it’s not something new when they come back out on Thursday (and) they see all the desks are changed and they see everything is just different. I would have liked it if they were able to accommodate them at least half a day on Wednesday just so that they get a feel of it.”

As part of preparations, the TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC) has set up an emergency hotline for principals and school supervisors.

A statement from the commission said between midday on Monday to 3 pm on Thursday, principals and supervisors could call or text 794-4823 or 794-7264 to report any disruption in their electricity service or any electrical safety concerns. It said there were no planned outages for the day of the exam.

It added that its usual numbers for trouble reports, 800-BULB (2852) and 800-TTEC (8832) remain available 24/7.