WHATEVER else may be fixed in stone by this stage, the August 20 date for the Secondary Entrance Examination (SEA) is one date we should not keep.
To proceed as planned sets a poor example. It sends the signal that exams are more important than lives.
In the face of all evidence that the situation is too unstable, too contingent, education officials agreed on Tuesday to stay the course.
These officials had the luxury of meeting virtually. They now ask students to do the opposite: to go to class to prepare, then to sit an exam in person too.
Meanwhile, over the last few days schools have been closed owing to confirmed cases of covid19 as well as fears over contact with infected people.
But it is not just schools. Heavily-frequented retail outlets have had scares. Banks have been shut. And even the police have had to vacate premises because of confirmed cases.
No one has a crystal ball to see into the future. But the events of the last few days bring home how quickly developments can occur, how fragile our sense of safety is.
The range of guidelines and controls that have been introduced in schools can offer a degree of protection.
And yet, were these guidelines not already in place when the recent cases were confirmed, and schools shut?
That alone tells us school officials have rightly assessed the risks cannot be fully neutralised by protocols, however comprehensive and well enforced.
The SEA exam is just one means of sorting students as they progress within our education system. Are we so in thrall to the notion of exams that we cannot see the realities facing us? Can we really not, for just one year, find some other, safer means of doing this assessment?
Perhaps the reluctance has something to do with the fact that parents and teachers have been coaching children to sit this examination for years. Shell-shocked, a world without this year’s SEA may seem unfathomable to them.
Yet what has this pandemic done but change the world?
And will the added trauma students face in sitting an exam in these scary circumstances count for nothing? Even parents of the Maraval RC and Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary schools have been expressing deep anxiety.
The TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) on Tuesday expressed sympathy with such anxiety.
In no time at all, however, the association went further. By Wednesday, after the decision to keep the date previously announced, it called on the Ministry of Education to discontinue preparations for SEA.
We go even further. This year’s exam should be vacated entirely.