Homeopath Jeber Barreto//
Disappointed PM calls on tutors to make the sacrifice

Disappointed PM calls on tutors to make the sacrifice

in parliament

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday strenuously defended the Government’s decision to set the SEA exam for August 20 and to pay $20 million to teachers to help pupils with the preparation.

Jeber Barreto

Responding to a question from Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee on whether the October date proposed by TTUTA was not better both for readiness of pupils and for fiscal sustainability, the Prime Minister said the matter involved a lot of stakeholders of which TTUTA was one

He said the ministry had canvassed opinions and there were two competing positions — to have the exams as early as possible, an option preferred by parents and pupils and an October exam, preferred by TTUTA

Rowley said if the exams were to be held in October, it would mean the first term of the 2021 academic year would be lost because there could be no placement of pupils in the first term

He said the parents and other advocates for the pupils said if the exams were held in August, then it would be possible to get the exams done with minimal loss of time and disruption, get the pupils placed and save a substantial portion of the first term

“To not do that is to lose the first term when there is an option to try and save it,” he said

The Prime Minister said the Government listened and consulted but at the end of the day a decision had to be made

Asked whether it was prudent to spend $20 million for the one month of assisting SEA pupils for the August exam, Rowley said: “If that is what it takes to get the students into the school, yes it is prudent. People have stolen much more money than that,” he said

“The money that is being spent for people to work during their vacation is their money, the money that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago spends is the money of the people of T&T and if they have to spend it on the teachers to get the students in school, that is prudently spent and this Government makes no apology for that,” he added

He said what should be confronting the country now is whether TTUTA would cooperate with the rest of the country to ensure the pupils’ interest come first

He said if the exam is held on August 20, the vast majority of the school-aged population would not be affected and would return to school (in September) with some semblance of normalcy whereas those who are affected by the exam would be disadvantaged for only six weeks and the placement would be done and they would start their first term a little late

Told that TTUTA’s General Council had rejected the Government’s proposal, the Prime Minister said he would be very disappointed. “I hope that is not so. If it is so, what are our teachers telling us, that they are not prepared to work (during the vacation) even if they are getting paid and even if this would save the first term.”

He said he had stressed that in this pandemic sacrifices had to be made, and he would be very disappointed if the teachers were not prepared to make this sacrifice

Gross exaggeration

Responding to a question from Barataria/San Juan MP Fuad Khan on whether he was concerned that less than 30 per cent of the nation’s pupils were able to log on the Ministry of Education’s online teaching platform, Rowley said he had no understanding of the basis of the 30 per cent except that it was an exaggeration when compared with the information available at the Ministry of Education

He said the information at the Ministry of Education indicated 90 per cent of pupils, in fact all pupils with access to a cellphone, would be able to access the platform

He said Government did acknowledge that the 10 per cent who didn’t and where there were difficulties, were largely around the access to internet services. He said to state that less than 30 per cent could access the programme was “grossly misleading and inaccurate”. He said the ministry’s information was arrived at by information coming from principals and other stakeholders from across the country

Asked whether he would consider free broadband access, the Prime Minister said he knew there were pupils who would have difficulties of one kind of another and that even where access was available, some pupils were not accessing due to other issues such as discipline and other reasons. He said he would leave the answer to this question to the ministry