Opinion: Leaving Cert postponement shows that students have been ignored

Student Róisín García Sacristán shares her thoughts about the decision to run the exams later in summer.

Several student in a classroom attending their leaving cert

On Friday, April 10, The Minister of Education and Skills Joe McHugh announced that the Leaving Certificate has been postponed until late July or August due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the 61,000 students due to sit their Leaving Cert this year will not be sitting their exams at the beginning of June. This announcement also states that the Junior Certificate would take place at the beginning of the new school year.

This announcement has received a mixed reaction from students, some are relieved that they will sit the exams that they were due to sit in June, albeit in presumably different conditions than what they were expecting. Then there is another group of students who have expressed concerns over their wellbeing and how the strain of 2 extra months of studying for the Leaving Cert will affect their mental health thus impacting their performance if the exams finally take place.

It’s also worth noting that students will have been out of school for some time and the only class time they will receive is 2 weeks of preparation in class before sitting the exams if this is able to go ahead. It also needs to be taken into account that students may not have easy access to a digital device or a quiet place to study. This puts disadvantaged students at an even bigger disadvantage than before. As it’s known that wealthier students will be able to pay for more materials or a tutor/online grinds to study at home. This leaves those already struggling even further behind.

On the same day, the Irish Second Level Students Union (ISSU) released a response to the State Examinations Decision. They have expressed concern over the lack of detail regarding the new proposals and that student welfare needs to be adequately considered. The ISSU also points out that the results on their survey that includes the views of over 46,000 students show that only 9% of Junior Cert and 19% of Leaving Cert students chose the postponement of exams as their first preference. The reasons for the low favorability rate were increased stress and anxiety, the quality of educational supports, and the disruption caused to students planning to study abroad.

The ISSU also expressed disappointment saying that the students’ voice wasn’t sufficiently consulted and that many questions still remain unanswered.

In my opinion, the government has shown a massive disconnect from the young people of Ireland. It is clear that the students’ voice wasn’t properly taken into account and students are clearly beginning to feel unmotivated and confused as it becomes increasingly unclear what kind of resources are going to be provided to them.

It is also incredibly taxing on students to essentially have to complete an 11-12 month school year, sit exams and then hopefully progress to the course of their choice. All with no breaks in between. It is also unclear how feasible it is for the exams to be marked accurately and on time in order for students to progress to their courses on time. This isn’t even taking into account the appeals process.

While it is impossible to satisfy and accommodate for everyone, be it predicted grades or the postponement of exams this crisis has shown that whatever decision is made will disproportionately affect those who are most disadvantaged and vulnerable, as there are many students out there who do not have access to a proper place to study or who haven’t been able to work to the best of their ability due to multiple factors. It’s also worth noting that some will have to work during the summer to be able to afford third level education.

It’s pure insanity to expect someone to work and at the same time study for what are arguably some of the most difficult exams, they will ever take. Perhaps we will learn from this crisis and we will learn that we need to invest in education and create a system that accommodates everyone and provides everyone with equal opportunities.

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