Leaving Cert: ‘The mental health and educational impact is massive’

Four students describe the uncertainty of exams and how it is disrupting study focus

Four students have outlined their concerns about the chaos the Leaving Certificate has fallen into in recent days.

Eva McDonnell – Ursuline Secondary School, Blackrock, Cork

Eva McDonnell turned 18 yesterday. Instead of celebrating with friends, she will have to make do with a takeaway and a Zoom call. Such is the lot of teenagers who have seen their lives turned upside down by the pandemic.

Eva says that most Leaving Cert students have taken a mature approach to the chaos they find themselves in, as uncertainty still surrounds the format of the Leaving Cert.


She admits, however, that her study is being disrupted as she continuously searches for exam updates.

“I felt really bad for the Leaving Cert students last year. I even said ‘thank God that is not me.’ And here we are. Yesterday when the ASTI pulled out of talks my group chat went crazy. It is not the best idea to keep looking at the updates [on the news], but I feel I have to know at the same time.”

Eva says students have missed out on large chunks of face-to-face learning not only this year but during fifth year when the Covid crisis first hit.

“We have lost out on so much contact teaching time. The teachers are doing their best, but it is so easy to get distracted. Then you have students who are at a disadvantage in terms of technology or where there are two or three in a family and they are sharing the computer or the tablet. When the pandemic first hit, it was really bad, but I thought I would have a normal sixth year. Now we aren’t having that. I wonder will I even have a normal first year in college?”

Aaron Dineen – Coláiste Éamann Rís, St Patrick's Road, Cork city

Aaron says even if they had certainty around the Leaving Cert that this would still be a draining time for students. The Groundhog Day feeling of doing Zoom classes, even if delivered by excellent teachers, is making focusing on school work difficult.

“My friends and I are all exhausted. Every morning we wake up and in the first class you can even hear it [the tiredness] in their voices. After school you try to do your homework and you turn on the news, expecting good news, and then there is still not clarity. We didn’t have a normal year last year and again this year. How do they expect us to sit a normal Leaving Certificate?”

Aaron knows of students who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. They have the pain of bereavement to endure on top of the chaos that surrounds their exams. He is frustrated that everything is being “left to the last minute again”.

A motivated teenager with a clear plan for college, he admits to finding it hard to study during lockdown.

“The first week of online school I did very well. But every week it drops off more and more. It mentally and physically drains you.”

Evan O’Connell – Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork

Evan is hoping to be given the option of completing an adapted Leaving Cert or receiving predicted grades.

“I personally think it is unfair to allow us to sit a [traditional] Leaving Certificate at this stage having missed four months of school which is equated to a fifth of our entire Leaving Cert. [By the end of this lockdown] we could be missing up to six or seven months out of a traditional learning environment.”

Evan says that the chaos is taking its toll on students like him. “The mental health impact is massive.The educational impact is also massive. If we didn’t have any Covid we would be finished a lot of our Leaving Cert courses. But at this point we are not even three quarters finished a lot of them. For a Government to turn around and say that it is still fair for us to do a Leaving Cert, they are seeing through completely faded windows. ”

Matthew Ryan – St Francis College, Rochestown, Cork

Matthew, who is an Irish Second-Level Students’ Union welfare officer, also believes a choice in terms of the format of the Leaving Cert would be the best option at this juncture.

“It is right for students who would thrive in an exam situation to sit their exams. But it is unfair after the year we have been through to say that our only option is to go into a exam hall. In a normal year we would be getting excited and planning for college.

“On a Thursday night when everyone has finished their school work, they pick up their phones to find the ASTI has withdrawn from talks. It is stressful. The Leaving Cert will happen again next year but we only have this year to do it.”