WHEN the clock strikes 9.45 a.m. on Wednesday, June 11th, an estimated 65,000 Irish Leaving Cert students will settle into their first exam. At the same time almost 30 students at the International School of the Martyrs in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, will sit down to the same exam. It's largely thanks to Brendan Coffey, former lecturer in communications at Athlone RTC and now publications officer there, that students in Libya are able to sit the Irish Leaving Cert.
This is the first time that the exam will be taken at an authorised centre outside Ireland. Coffey has recently returned to Ireland after a six year stint as principal of the International School in Tripoli. "The school was established in 1958 to cater for the expatriate community there," he explains.
Today the school boasts an enrolment of 450 students aged between 4 and 17 years. The children are of 47 different nationalities - mainly the offspring of embassy and oil company employees. A few of the students are Libyan and five of them are Irish, says Coffey.
Up until now students have been forced to leave their parents and move back to their countries of origin - or to other centres - in order to study terminal school exams which allow them entry to third level.
"We gained approval to run the International Baccalaureate but we didn't take it up as it was very expensive," says Coffey. "We then approached the Department of Education about the possibility of taking Junior and Leaving Cert. They considered it for a while and eventually agreed."
This year the Tripoli based students will be taking higher and ordinary level Leaving Cert exams in English, French, Arabic, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, business studies and art.
"It wasn't difficult to introduce the courses," says Coffey. "We imported all the Irish text books. Parents particularly are delighted. It means that the children can now stay with their parents while completing their second level education."
Department officials have been out to Libya to set up the examination centre. The Tripoli students will sit the exams at exactly the same time and on the same days as their Irish counterparts. The officials will bring the exam papers out to Libya and remain there to supervise the exams.
"At the moment they are one hour ahead of us," says Coffey, "so if the exam start in Ireland at 9.45 a.m. they will start in Tripoli at 10.45 a.m. There's no way there will be time for anyone to fax over the exam papers from there.
DURING the period of the exams the International School will remain open on Fridays to facilitate candidates even though Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, the equivalent of the Christian Sunday.
According to a Department spokesperson, the school will pay all the running costs of the exam, including transportation of papers and travelling expenses of the supervisors and the oral examiners. Although it's the first time that the Irish Leaving Cert will be taken at a formal centre outside Ireland, these exams have been taken abroad on an individual basis in the past.