This is just the start of an unequal Leaving Cert for class of 2020

Opinion: The plan to continue with the written exams in June is not possible

Minister for Education Joe McHugh  delivers an update on this year’s Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams.  Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Minister for Education Joe McHugh delivers an update on this year’s Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

Today I, like 56,000 other Leaving Cert students, would normally be getting ready for a seven- or eight-hour day at school with the aim of preparing for the most important exams of my life.

However, today is not a typical day. Far from it. Because of Covid-19, schools have sent us home indefinitely, a difficult though necessary decision to keep us safe.

When I first heard the news, I was shocked. Being told to gather all books from my locker and to head home came as an unwelcome surprise 10 days out from the Leaving Cert orals.

I began to worry, which was unusual for me, but I knew the significance of this closure. Rather than looking at the negatives, I put my head down and got to work, which seemed like the only solution with absolutely no news of what would be happening to the exams.

Cancelled

Ten days on and, as we all know, the Minister for Education cancelled these exams and awarded full marks to every student. A range of mixed emotions came with this decision: disappointment, because I had put in countless hours in preparation, and relief, because some of the uncertainty had vanished.

Whether you were happy or not with this decision, I think it is safe to say that it comes with an advantage for some and a disadvantage for others, and I believe this is just the start of an unequal 2020 Leaving Cert.

Apart from the orals, the fact that students taking subjects such as music, for example, have been awarded full marks for their practical exam, is baffling.

These students are starting off a Leaving Cert exam with a H5 already secured before putting pen to paper compared to the vast majority of others beginning at zero. It is, quite simply, inequitable. We shouldn’t have any cause to debate whether some of us have been advantaged or disadvantaged when it comes to the Leaving Cert exams.

These measures cause significant stress for us students across the country as we all wonder how it will affect our results, as well as the marking “bell curve”, and how it could be the difference between being accepted for a PLC, apprenticeship or college course.

Incredible work is being done by teachers and staff to help us through these uncertain times. Notes, assignments and teaching videos certainly help ease some of the pressure, but it is incomparable to being in school with a set structure of classes.

Closures

I work hard at school and always put in as much time and effort into my studies knowing that with hard work, my desired course is within reach.

Unfortunately, since these school closures, my progress has not been the same. It is incredibly difficult to follow a strict plan and to stay motivated with so many distractions at home. I can only imagine what these times must be like for students who already find it hard to stay motivated while at school.

For less engaged students, the only learning that they pick up is often within the school week. On top of this, many have unreliable internet access and inadequate technology.

In some cases, students cannot access the notes that are being distributed by teachers. Others must become primary caregivers for younger siblings whose schools have also closed while parents try to make ends meet. Many fear that their loved ones could be among the thousands who will die from the virus in the coming months.

And those who fall ill are not the only people affected: since family businesses have already shut and livelihoods lost. In one of the most significant years of our lives, the reality is that the Leaving Cert is no longer the primary concern as there are more substantial problems ahead of us. Frighteningly, the students who are hurt most severely by Covid-19 might not be able to meet academic standards at all, potentially failing their Leaving Cert.

Solutions

In these difficult times, we are all doing the best we can with the little we have. No, this situation is not perfect, and there are no ideal solutions, but we need some more information quickly.

The current plan to continue with the written exams in June is not possible in my eyes. With the Taoiseach saying school closures could last into the summer months, I don’t see how such a situation is possible. These months off school are not the same as being in school, and time will need to be allocated in summer months to complete unfinished courses if there is any intention of the Leaving Cert going ahead.

Unfortunately, this situation is only going to get worse, and the Government must make decisions sooner rather than later. Whether that is predicted results like the A-Levels with the option of sitting the exams in autumn for dissatisfied students or, at a minimum, announcing a structured plan if these exams are to go ahead, we need answers!

Brian Lynch is a sixth year student and Leaving Cert candidate