Young people and COVID-19: The Leaving Cert

Our readers share their thoughts and experiences on life in lockdown and how it has impacted on their Leaving Cert year

Written by spunout


Recently, we ask our readers to share their experiences of life in lockdown. Young people’s lives have been turned upside down during this crisis, with schools and colleges closing, and many young people losing jobs. As part of a project with the Irish Examiner, we wanted to highlight these stories and give a voice to young people in Ireland learning to cope in this new situation.

Below, you can read what our readers have to say about preparing for the Leaving Cert during the COVID-19 pandemic

Young people share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic

Katie, 18, Roscommon

So far during the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been finding it hard to get used to the situation at hand. Everyone in the country is self isolating at home. Schools are closed, as are every non-essential service. We’re watching the world panic, but we’re also watching it band together. Through places like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, people of all ages are banding together to help one another get through the isolation. As a Leaving Certificate student, these apps, the students, teachers and educational companies who have banded together to pool resources during this time, have greatly helped me. While my mental health and well-being has been improved by these new connections, the lack of clarity with the Leaving Certificate and the now postponement has greatly impacted me. It has changed the way that I work, study and cope and I know that many students feel the same. It’s very easy to feel that we are alone in this lock-down. I know I have succumbed to this feeling myself, but it’s so important to remember that we are always here for each other. Personally, in order to cope, I have been practising self care and I am doing my best to keep a positive mental attitude. I’ve made sure to keep in contact with the ones I love and have been keeping myself preoccupied through reading and writing out the doubts I’m feeling. All we can do is our best I suppose. 

Jakub, 18, Galway

At the moment this pandemic is having a huge impact on my life, as this year I am meant to be doing my Leaving Cert. There is so much uncertainty around what’s going on with the Leaving Cert and school that young people’s mental health is being seriously affected. I feel like the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Education are not listening to young people’s voices and thinking of their well-being throughout this pandemic. Young people in Ireland are trying their best to stay at home, and keep them, and their families safe. I feel like there should be more information given to schools to share with young people, and how they can cope this pandemic. I feel like young people are not being supported as much as they should be during this pandemic to help them get through their day-to-day lives.  

Anna, 17, Longford

My experience of the COVID-19 pandemic as a Leaving Cert student has been filled with constant anxiety and uncertainty regarding the exams. It is difficult to study with a pandemic taking place around you. I sometimes find myself losing motivation for studying as exam worry pales in comparison to the virus we are facing. By postponing the exams until late July, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine an end in sight. Now that we have to do our exams so late I can’t get a summer job to support myself in college. I am struggling to find accommodation, as landlords can’t hold properties for students who don’t know when they will be attending college. I understand the exams were postponed out of fairness to students, but how is this fair to students either? Student’s mental health is paying the price of this decision. For the last 6 weeks we have not been allowed to physically interact with our friends, and teachers, or even leave the house out of public safety. There is no separation between our school and home life anymore and it has become suffocating. So much rests on the Leaving Cert exam – it determines our entry into college and our future careers. In normal circumstances, it’s a very stressful time for students, but the situation we find ourselves in has heightened our anxiety. The Department of Education needs to listen to the wishes of the students sitting the exams and prioritise student well being over all else. 

Nicole, 18, Wicklow

Stressful and very hard to not see anybody for so long. I feel overwhelmed, and that the Leaving Cert, on top of everything going on, is very damaging to us. I’d like to have done the exams after so much preparation, but it’s not worth the risk, and how much we’ve missed, especially when you can’t do online classes, as you can’t learn that way.

Molly, 18, Dublin

On Monday morning I woke up to my final few weeks in “school”. With my Google classroom full with work, I sat down at my desk in the hopes that my concentration would be better than it had been in the weeks previous. I find working from home harder, because there is no longer the same support network that surrounded me in school. I had my teachers encouraging me to work harder, the end was in sight. My friends reminded me that graduation and debs were just around the corner. My parents encouraged me to do my best, because that’s all that mattered. Now I have less contact with all of those people. My teachers try to answer my questions as best they can over Zoom. I check in with my friends through social media, but we can’t see each other, when all we want is a hug. I talk to my dad and my brothers through Facetime, asking how their school day went and what games they played. Everyday, without fail, myself and my mom go for a walk in our local park, ensuring we stay in our new boundaries, we can’t go very far. I have always felt the world is so big, with a desire to travel and see as much of it as I can, but now I feel penned in. My life has come to short walks and studying for my looming Leaving Cert exams. Nevertheless, my green jersey is on. 

Caitlin, 18, Cork

The pandemic has been extremely stressful so far. On top of that, 6th years are being told to study as normal for exams, which is just adding to stress levels for so many of us. I don’t think anyone has taken our mental health into account, as it’s clear the ministers are more concerned with keeping up the tradition of the Leaving Cert. Personally, it’s difficult for me to study at home, and my anxiety regarding the whole situation has definitely gotten worse since the announcement on April 10th.

Zara, 17, Cork

My Experience during this Pandemic so far has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept during my life time. 2020 was meant to be a big year for me. The year I complete my Leaving Cert, go to college, and become an adult. Everything started off by simply being told that schools were closing and we could be at home for more then 2 weeks. I won’t lie, I was so happy when I heard this because I was never a big fan of school. Things gradually got worse. I then heard that day that gyms were closing. The gym was one of my favourite places to go , a place I could take out my energy on the weights and just focus on myself and get some me time . That was another thing I had no control over and had to accept. After a few days I became very bored and decided I wanted to meet up with my friends. I didn’t understand the severity of this disease. I began arguing with my parents because I was so frustrated at being in all the time, and not being able to socialise with anyone. I then started some bad habits which consisted of me doing no school work, constantly boredom eating, going to bed late at night, taking unnecessary naps during the day, and constantly using technology. It has made me feel really unhealthy in myself. I always feel tired and unmotivated to do stuff. And my bad habits also impacted my parents. They became very frustrated with me when they saw no school work was being done, which caused more bad habits. A few weeks later Leo announced that a full lock down was taking place and that anyone over 70 needed to cocoon. I remember telling my Grandad this on the phone, and that we had to do his shopping for him from this day on. He was not happy. He’s a very independent man and this impacted on his emotions greatly. A week and a half ago I heard that our Leaving Cert is being postponed until July. I was really upset about this. I just wanted to get my Leaving Cert done because I had an amazing summer planned. From going to Longitude to going to Lanzarote with my family, and our debs in August, all that is gone.

Ellie, 18, Dublin

The past few weeks have been a struggle to say the least. I am a Leaving Cert student, and trying to motivate myself to study and learn has been near impossible. I live in a very busy household so my house was never a place I would use to study, but with everything closed I have no other choice. The uncertainty surrounding us at this time is indescribable. We have no outlets left to relax and unwind. Personally, I miss nothing more than my friends and my family. FaceTime and Zoom calls have been my best friend during this time, but they will never replace the social interaction we’re all missing so much. I feel like I’m wasting so much time with all this going on. When my grandad contracted COVID-19 in March, it was a real reality check to just how serious this whole thing is. Thankfully he pulled through, and is now back home. I have made a real effort to social distance since then, and it’s been so hard not seeing my friends. The sooner we all listen to the social distancing rules the government is telling us, the sooner we will get back to reality.

Amy Louise, 18, Louth

I first heard about the virus breaking out in China when my Dad got invited to a Chinese New Year celebration in Dublin. My Mam heard the news and said not a chance we were going, in case any people coming over brought the virus with them. At the start I felt like the whole thing about the country going into lockdown wasn’t going to be going on for too long. I didn’t feel too bothered by the whole situation, thinking that my town wouldn’t be that affected by it. Then someone in this factory just outside of town, where my older brother works. got infected. A few of his colleagues were made stay home for around 3 weeks, including my brother’s friend. That’s when I realised how quickly it was spreading across the country. When lockdown started, I was staying in my Grandmother’s house, about 15 minutes from my home, with my parents and my two siblings. I’m still here with my Nan and finding it horribly hard that I can’t be with my parents during this. I miss my younger sister more than anything. The whole thing with the Leaving Cert being postponed stressed me out. I was really looking forward to finishing school and spending time with my friends before getting my head down and studying in college. It’s becoming more and more difficult by the day. I can no longer go for my daily walks to loosen my joints to help relieve the pain being caused by my Rheumatoid Arthritis, which causes my joints to swell and inflame.

Aisha, 17, Dublin

Currently, I’m exhausted. I have a compromised immune system from a chronic illness, I’m basically bed bound. The government ruling on the Leaving Cert is making me stressed, and effecting my health even more. I’m unable to study, I’ve memory problems and I’m completely isolated from friends again, after being housebound before a while ago. It’s harder to get any medication. I’m worried about developing more health issues because going to a GP is now dangerous for me, and going food shopping is massively draining. My friends are stressed about their future, college courses and family members. We’re also anxious about losing our summer, to exams or to isolation. Winter was hard because of how dark it gets and how miserable the weather is. We were looking forward to birthday celebrations, and being able to have fun outside while off school. We all just hope this ends soon, I really wanna hug my friends and family again.

Holly, 18, Mayo

My experience of the COVID-19 pandemic as Leaving Certificate student has been quite difficult so far. The lack of information and answers around the postponement of the Leaving Certificate has been very been stressful. Trying to keep motivated has been hard. The thought of having to study for the summer is yet another added stress and something that a lot of students my age are struggling with. The fear of contracting the virus or those around me becoming ill is very scary. It is difficult to try and focus on school work when a global pandemic is happening.

Megan, 18, Dublin

I’ve found the COVID-19 experience very overwhelming so far. With stress from the Leaving Cert, and being unable to spend time with friends and family. I think people my age can agree with me that this is a very stressful situation that students are in at the moment. I found it particularly difficult, school, the anxiety, and the pressure of the Leaving Cert being the worst pressure of them all. I think the young people of Ireland need more support to help them through this crazy time.

Chloe, 17, Dublin

It’s been a rollercoaster to say the least. I’m sitting my Leaving Cert this summer and I’m really struggling. I’m extremely academic and enjoy school, but right now it’s really taking it out of me. The uncertainty is extremely tough to deal with. I try to remain positive though, and see that maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. I struggle with my mental health a lot and this situation is really not ideal, but we’ll all get through it.
I try to keep a routine. Get up and get dressed, start the day off with some school work until lunch time, take a break to go for a walk and clear my mind. I do some more school work in the afternoon until dinner time and if there’s any assignments left I’ll finish them after dinner. The workload is intense, but my teachers have been amazing. Self care is important for all of us during this hard time so I ensure to have some down time in the evenings. I think it’s important for us all to remember that this will pass and every situation in life is temporary!!

Umulkhaira, 20, Dublin

I’m in 6th year and I’m normally a motivated person. I get my work done on time, but during this lockdown I’m finding it difficult to keep structure during my day and to separate my school work time from my ‘me’ time. Teaching myself takes so long, and I’m finding that I’m taking less breaks to catch-up. I share a room with my sisters, so I don’t have a place where I can peacefully study and learn. I have a large family so the rest of the house is the same. My mental health did get really bad at one point during the quarantine, but then I started doing yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. I feel like that’s helping a lot. I understand that the government is trying their best to make difficult decisions at this time of uncertainty, but I just can’t wait until we can go back to a somewhat normal life. –

Tori, 17, Donegal

Stressful, as I am studying for my Leaving Cert. I find it difficult to study as I have to choose between classes, as teachers are hosting online meetings at the same time. Postponing the Leaving Cert has prolonged studying at home without classroom help. It is difficult to learn new chapters without being in a classroom to understand it. I’m doing Art and we cannot finish our project at home as it must be done in school. I’m concerned about it as we were meant to have five weeks to complete our booklet, and now we are only going to get two weeks before our exams.

Leah, 18, Galway

At the start of my Leaving Cert year, I missed a lot of school days, due to some stubborn infections. After being in and out of hospital, it had a huge impact on my mental health. I had yet to complete a full week of school. Somehow, I managed to stay going. Through the tears, I sat my mocks, to everyone’s surprise. Around the same time I stumbled upon my dream 3rd level course. I was so happy to had finally found some direction and motivation. It was rocky but I was so proud of myself for returning to school ’til I heard the news that the schools were shutting. After all my hard work to get back on my feet… it was taken away from me again. It’s hard for me to concentrate at home but sometimes you have to stay going. This will end someday. Hold on.

Laura, 18, Cork

As a Leaving Cert student, I am outraged by the decisions made in regards to our exams this year. Students have completely been disregarded by the government in their decision making. They insist on ploughing ahead with these dangerous exams. Mental health is suffering greatly as a result and we are becoming more and more anxious as reports emerge about the obvious and serious flaws in the current plan. At the end of the day, we are expected to sit exams, together, during a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands. Our lives and the lives of our families are being gambled with for the sake of exams. We are scared for ourselves and our families. Lockdown is giving me the time to take a step back and enjoy the simpler things in life. I am also enjoying having time to myself to focus on my well being and hobbies. However, it is very hard to escape the anxiety being caused by the Leaving Cert exams. Young people are not guinea pigs, we have lives too, and it is inhumane to force us to sacrifice our health for the sake of exams that could easily have been cancelled.

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