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Students express mental health concerns due to Leaving Cert uncertainty

Students are left anxious as questions about State Exams are unanswered


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in news


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Young people in Ireland are currently staying at home from school, college and work, while they practice social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). With uncertainty around employment, exams and housing young people have voiced their concerns, offered advice and shared messages of support to other people in similar situations around the country.

An issue repeatedly highlighted by our readers is the uncertainty surrounding the Junior and Leaving Cert State Examinations for 2020. With schools closed, and limited learning opportunities available to some students due to lack of wifi, hardware and teaching, students have been left feeling anxious about their futures while their calls for clarity have not yet been answered by the State, depsite the Taoiseach saying the Leaving Cert would happen ‘by hook or by crook’ at a press conference last week.

Students have shared with SpunOut.ie that the uncertainty around exams has led to lack of motivation, heightened anxiety and increased levels of stress. A survey of over 46,000 exam year students carried out by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) has found that most Junior and Leaving Cert students want to see exams cancelled and predicted grades assigned to students by teachers due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Contributors to SpunOut.ie, as well as members of our Action Panels, from around the country have gotten in touch to share their experiences of this uncertainty on them, and in particular on their mental health.

We’ve gathered together some of their contributions below to get an insight into how the Leaving Cert class of 2020 are feeling right now.

Contributor’s experiences:

Are you a student meant to be sitting your Leaving Cert this summer? Share your experience with us and let us know how you are coping during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Action Panel Members’ views:

Nicole Frazer

“As for people who are doing their Leaving Cert, I think that the departments need to take into account that not everyone has a suitable home environment that allows them to study. Unfortunately there are many young people out there who are dealing with extremely negative and heartbreaking circumstances where school was their safe space. It is unrealistic to expect these students to maintain good study routines and be given the time and space to concentrate”

Maisie McMaster

“I’m doing my Leaving Cert at the moment and I’m honestly quite anxious.

I think the uncertainty of the situation is what’s worrying, as any uncertainty usually is, even though the minister has said they want exams to go ahead in June we still haven’t been given any definitive answers to our questions I feel.

Overall I think it’s very unfair to expect Leaving Cert students to be in a place to sit a set of exams in the coming months due to the massive changes we’ve seen in everyday life, on average it can take over two months before a behaviour becomes a routine so adjusting to school or work at home could take a long time, leaving little time to prepare for an exam!”

Ewan Hutchinson

“As a 6th Year student, I feel really frustrated and stressed about the situation we’re in at the moment. I was beginning to struggle in school in the weeks leading up to the closures with getting work done and when we heard they’d be closing I knew it was bad news. I’ve found it incredibly difficult to work from home, I simply do not have the self-motivation currently.

Whereas before I at least learned in a supportive environment because I attended school, I am now not doing anything productive and have lost my motivation. The work is mostly new material and new concepts which are really tough to reach yourself. My school is not running online classes so we can only communicate with teachers via chat or email in teams. When orals and practicals were cancelled I assumed the department was going to draw up a similar plan for the written exams but I was wrong.

I’m just really really frustrated about the whole thing because I don’t want to see myself or others be penalised in terms of grades that we’ve worked on for 2 years. Everyone wants to do well and move on in life but if we refuse to break the traditional exam cycle even in the extraordinary circumstances we are facing, that is plain ignorance and disrespect towards the cohort of leaving cert students.”

Abbie Somers

“It's appalling that every student is expected to study and continue as normal with all of this going on, especially considering multiple factors: some schools (like mine) aren't doing online classes or getting videos and all we get is assigned work and photocopies that we have to make sense of ourselves. There are students with no access to wifi, students who have to take care of their siblings, students who struggle with their mental health, and some students in an abusive household who are all at a disadvantage to the average student.

I believe that predicted grades is the only fair way to go about this- along with cancelling the Junior Cert altogether. Predicted grades with an appeal system will take into account smaller class tests and term tests which can better reflect all of the students abilities.”

Rossa Gilsenan

“I don't think it is realistic to have the exams in June seeing as well, COVID-19 and also- the students have no help from the teachers but I don't think predicted grades will work, in my opinion. But I agree that this has been an unbelievably stressful time for all Leaving Cert students and some of us might have or will get COVID-19 so we need to be as fair as we can.

The Department of Education needs to consult us though, which they aren't doing. There definitely isn't a perfect answer to this crisis in terms of the Leaving Cert exams but I do think that we need to choose the best one for all students who have worked hard, not just the easy option for the SEC (State Examination Commission).”

Ailbhe Moore

“I think that what most exam students want is just a quick and decisive answer, no matter what that is. This isn’t going to be a distant memory by June third and I think a final decision should be made as quickly as possible because students are under a huge huge huge amount of stress due to the uncertainty. There’s no perfect solution and not everyone will be happy at the end of the day but for many the uncertainty is the biggest stress factor.”

Ciaran Setshego Semahedi

“When they cancelled the orals people had already put a lot of time into studying for them and now we are looking at it and thinking what's the point in putting in the work if they might end up just cancelling it, and as a result there is a huge struggle to get motivated to study. Going back to using predicted grades I feel it would be the fairest option, while I know that I myself will have to repeat if they do that at least I will sit the Leaving Cert in a time of normal Leaving Cert stress and not with all this added on top of it.”

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Published April 8th2020
Last updated August 11th2020
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.
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