The Leaving Cert can be the most stressful experience any young person will have to go through. There is the academic pressure to get the best grades possible in every subject you’re doing, as well as the pressure to decide your career and future at 18. Lastly, pressure from your family and friends. Many people compare their results to their parents, siblings or friends, which adds to the pressure.
Personally, I became very depressed in 6th year of school. I was already in a vulnerable emotional state before the pressures of the Leaving Cert kicked in. The whole Leaving Cert process only left me tumbling deeper and deeper into darker and darker thoughts. When talking to friends about their own experiences, many have told me that 6th year was the worst year of their life. I’m sure this feeling is shared by many current students.
These pressures are enough for any coming of age student to deal with. Now imagine if, on top of everything else, you were grieving. Imagine how you would feel if someone very close to you passed away a mere three days before your exams began. Just imagine trying to process your emotions in a healthy way when your world has irreversibly changed forever.
The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh announced a plan to assist Leaving Certificate students who suffer bereavement of a close relative during exam period. It will allow a student to be absent from exams for three days, starting from the date of the death of a close relative up to and including the day after the funeral. These three days do not need to be consecutive.
My friend’s father died recently, a few days before the youngest son was due to start the leaving cert. After only a few days to grieve, to try and process what had happened, he had to resume taking his exams. This is outrageous. To me this highlights how much pressure is put on students with these exams. It tells young people that their Leaving Cert takes priority over almost all else. There are quite simply more important things in life.
How can anyone expect a young person, after the most frantic and challenging year of their life, and the death of loved one, to perform academically, or even to care about the exams? I have the utmost respect for all the young people in the past who have braved it out and performed nonetheless. However, they should not have to be brave. They should not have to focus on anything other than grieving.
We try to teach young people to take care of their mental health. How is it fair on anyone to have to undergo the most strenuous period of their life so far whilst grieving? How is that in any way productive for their mental health? Simply put, it isn’t, and it never will be.
The three-day period is definitely a step in the right direction; however, it is only a small one at that. Compassion must be valued over results. What these people are feeling in their hearts must be valued over what they are expected to regurgitate out of their head. I recognise that there are practical obstacles to overcome in making back up exam papers, halls and invigilators available. I understand that the costs of the Leaving Cert may increase as a result. However, some things are simply too important to worry over the pennies and the pounds.
This is not about letting anyone off the hook at exam time and some people may abuse the system. Regardless, it is the right thing to do for the people who need time to grieve. Empathy is one of the most important traits any of us can possess, but the current system we have in place shows little to no empathy to the young people who will, in time, drive this country forward.
Put yourself in my friend’s shoes. His Father passed away two days before the exams began. He resumed his exams a few days later. I know if it was my family member I would be disgusted. If it were my child I would be outraged. As a friend, I am simply upset that their family has had to go through this. There is no reason to allow these practices to continue. Let’s look after our young people, rather than exacerbating already awful situations. Compassion and empathy for our young, surely that’s something we can all get behind.