COVID-19 is having a huge impact on everyone and everything in the country. In the space of just a few short weeks, every aspect of our lives has been entirely transformed forever. Suggesting that Leaving Cert exams can go ahead in June as planned is something that I believe has no place in a country suffering through the worst global pandemic in living memory. With the Leaving Cert exams due to take place in just under 12 weeks time, hearing that schools were being closed is the last thing that any student would like to hear. However, this is the reality for me and for many other sixth year students across the country.
Dealing with the school closure
After Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement, we had just three hours to coordinate with our teachers on how to manage with the closure. Trying to get suitable work assigned, to find ways of communication between students and teachers, and the logistics of getting textbooks and binders was no easy task. Like most people, I viewed the closure as a necessary step. We had already heard of closures of schools and workplaces in other countries in Europe, and although the timing may have come at a surprise, we understood the seriousness of the situation and knew that this needed to be done.
I planned on using the two weeks at home to revise what we had already covered, and then to cover the final few chapters in my courses once the schools reopen. However, it soon became quite clear that this closure was going to be more than two weeks. Extensions to the school closures are rumoured to last into May, and could possibly run up to the end of term. Myself and almost 60,000 other sixth year students are left in a state of limbo as to what the fate of our exams will be. Sixth year students are still left questioning how and when their Leaving Cert will be examined, and are expected to keep going with the huge workload that the Leaving Cert demands, without the supportive school environment in which it is designed.
Unequal access to resources at home
As a Leaving Cert student of the class of 2020, I have more access to alternative resources than previous classes might have had. However, this is not the case for all students, and differs greatly across the country. Differences in standards of broadband, accessibility of laptops and even trying to secure a quiet study environment at home vary from house to house. I believe remote learning will disproportionately work in favour for students from affluent backgrounds. Students in fee paying schools and grind schools may have the resources to continue with virtual classes, whilst students in DEIS schools may struggle with accessing online resources.
Continuing with the exams completely disregards this surreal situation will have on everyone. Worrying about Covid-19 is physically and emotionally taxing for anyone to find themselves in, and regrettably students will have to overcome this challenge without the support of their friends.
Finding a solution
Postponing the exams to the end of the summer is a plan which, in my opinion, raises a lot more questions than it solves. Sixth year students have already endured two years of intense, often twelve hour days to their studies, sacrificing weekends and holidays in order to reach a grade which they need. Asking students to extend this into their summer and make up the time lost in school, effectively cancels any break from studies for them or their teachers. How would students be expected to fund the extortionate cost of third level education without even having the opportunity to earn a decent amount over the summer months? Who would be responsible for correcting the exams, since all the teachers would be back starting the new academic year? When would students know their results, and when would third level institutions begin their academic year?
All this is, of course, built on the idea that the worst of the impact of the pandemic is over, which is not something anyone can guarantee. To me, postponing the Leaving Cert is just deferring a problem that will inevitably have to be solved. I am not saying that a solution to this current problem will be easily found. In its 95 year history, the state exams have never had to be rescheduled or cancelled. Unfortunately, in the circumstances that we find ourselves in this year, there is no practical way for the Leaving Cert to be examined without its integrity being compromised. One possible suggestion is that the Irish government should follow our European neighbours and allow college places to be allocated based on a system of entrance exams and estimated results. This is the only practical way in which we can continue without the pandemic causing too much disruption to our future studies.
Action is needed
In the grand scheme of things, the Leaving Cert is only a small casualty in this battle against COVID-19. However, for Leaving Cert students across the country like me, it has completely thrown our hopes of securing a college place into doubt and turmoil. Regardless, we are expected to continue with our studies and sit a series of exams in June with our challenges acknowledged but not addressed. No one can be certain about what the future holds, but this uncertainty should not be extended to the fate of the Leaving Cert of almost 60,000 students across the country. Decisions need to be made, sooner rather than later.