Leaving Cert limbo

Comment & Opinion

BOMBARDED Leaving Cert students are being constantly bombarded not only with course work, but with media speculation and Government indecision about their examinations.

With Covid wreaking havoc on teaching and learning, our Leaving Cert students deserve clarity – and soon

For those of us who still have nightmares about sitting our Leaving Certs, we must have sympathy for the 60,000 students around the country who are in limbo once again due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Did anybody really believe Minister for Education Norma Foley when she said it was the Government’s ‘firm intention’ to press ahead with this year’s exams? After all, she has made more U-turns in the last few months than a rally driver on the hairpin bends on the Ring of Kerry, her county constituency.  
At least this year there is sustained pressure on the Department of Education to make a decision one way or the other, and it seems increasingly likely that students may be offered a choice between sitting the exams in June or opting for calculated grades. We have all learned by now, however, that sudden surges in the virus can change the best-laid plans overnight.
The Cabinet meeting today (Tuesday) will hopefully bring some clarity and closure on the matter.           
From a medical expertise perspective, the fact that Professor Philip Nolan of Nphet (the National Public Health Emergency Team) observed over the weekend that we are moving ‘rapidly towards the point at which the cautious and phased reopening of schools in early March would be feasible’ gives cause for some optimism. However, this step-by-step approach looks set to begin with special education and primary schools. Meanwhile, time is of the essence for the stressed Leaving Cert students who are studying for exams that in most cases define their future lives.

Advisory group
IT has to be welcomed that an advisory group made up of student representatives, parents, principals, teachers unions and management bodies have been considering the possible options.
Whilst the teachers’ unions, principals, school management bodies and department officials want the exams to be held, the students want a choice between sitting the exams and calculated grades.
The fact that they are now organised in a group called the Irish Second Level Students’ Union gives them more clout, a louder voice, which is only fair. Interestingly, the Opposition parties have come down on the side of the students and argue they should have the choice.

Orals and practicals
IT certainly seems clear at this stage – today is February 2 – that neither the orals or practicals will be going ahead as usual. Some of the key stakeholders have confirmed schools would need to be open again by Monday, February 22 – or after the usual mid-term break – for that to happen.
Whilst the logistics of our educational system these days are an ever-changing set of variables, it seems more likely that students will be awarded full marks again, as was the case last year. However, some education partners have floated the idea of holding the orals and practicals during the Easter holidays.
Amid these logistical nightmares, we must remember the thousands of teenage students – here in Co Mayo from Ballina to Belmullet, Louisburgh to Charlestown, Ballinrobe to Claremorris – who are studying away in their bedrooms or at kitchen tables. We must acknowledge the support of parents, many of whom are trying to work from home whilst juggling the demands of being surrogate teachers.   
We must also remember their teachers who are valiantly attempting to keep a fractured system going forward whilst they too grapple with their own familial and domestic pressures.
Indeed, for those of us who still have nightmares about our Leaving Certs, the stresses played out in our unconscious life are nothing like the ongoing real-life anxieties that these students and their teachers are experiencing.