Why we urgently need a decision on the Leaving Cert

Abbie talks about how she feels about the uncertainty of her exams and the lack of communication
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A personal rant to Minister Joe McHugh

It’s almost 6am as I’m typing this article up and I haven’t yet slept. Sure, the fact that I’m a stereotypical ‘night owl’ contributes to that, but the main reason I am still awake is because I’ve yet to shake off the remnants of my most recent panic attack from a half hour ago that was caused by the uncertainty of my Leaving Certificate exams.

This isn’t the first late night panic attack I’ve had surrounding the unpredictability of my future, and if our Department of Education and Minister Joe McHugh continue as they have been since the schools closed, I can guarantee that it’s by far the last.

First off, I’d like to say that the fact this scenario has triggered a panic attack in me- and undoubtedly several other students- is absolutely shocking.

While I’d like to say that my family has been a massive help in dealing with the stress, I can’t. This isn’t a complaint about them, but simply a fact. It’s purely because none of us have ever been in this situation before. This COVID-19/coronavirus outbreak has left all of us clueless on how to handle the task at hand because, to put it simply, it’s very much One of a Kind.

The impact on our mental health

Personally, I like to think that I’m reasonably good at keeping my anxieties in check, but I also know not everyone can do it. I know people from my year group in school who are finding it even more difficult to cope with the current situation and the impact it’s having on their mental health. While we are trying to support those who are struggling, while struggling ourselves, we are still waiting for a sliver of clarity from the Minister on what are some of the most important exams in our lives- and yet he is silent.

Our mental health (and subsequently, our physical one) is being put at risk for the sake of keeping up a ‘tradition.’ What about those who were already struggling with their mental health, like myself, before the virus caused the schools to close? Those same students who might not be able to reach their therapists as often as they would have, and are trying their best to stay afloat when the outcome of their future is hazy at best?

Looking at other European countries

The A-Levels in the UK have been cancelled now. Malta’s COVID-19 cases aren’t nearly as severe as Ireland’s are. They have made the decision to cancel their exams. France has cancelled the Baccalaureate. These are just some examples of countries that have recognised the real threat of the coronavirus and acted accordingly. These countries have their plans in motion, while us Leaving Cert students are being kept in the dark and the only reassurance we get from you, Joe, is ‘coinnigh dearfach and stay focused’?

School, for some students, may have been a factor of their deteriorating mental health. But for some students- myself included- school, while tiring, was a welcomed distraction. School kept our heads busy and at least in school I was somewhat more capable of staying motivated and getting some work done. But now, that’s been taken away.

I can only listen to one French aural a day before I can’t take anymore. We can only revise our Hamlet notes so many times as the hours go by with no response. Perhaps there may even truly be “something rotten in the state of [Ireland]”, so to speak.

We deserve more than this

We deserve clarity. We deserve actual reassurance. Your ‘thoughts and prayers’ won’t magically make the coronavirus go away. They won’t magically allow for the exams to go ahead in June with no complications. We have repeatedly tweeted you, we have written letters, and have even begged you to respond, yet you remain silent.

It’s time for you to open your eyes, Minister McHugh. It’s time for you to pay attention to us. Maybe, just this once, listen to the students you’re putting at risk. After all, it’s our future that you’re damaging.

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