Cancel the Leaving Cert. Opinion Piece

Oisín Tiernan is a Labour Youth member from Wexford and part of the T.F. Byrne Labour Youth branch. Oisín is one of many thousands of leaving cert. students who have been placed in a precarious and highly stressful situation as a result of the outbreak of covid-19 impacting when and how exactly the leaving cert. will take place this year. In this article, Oisín gives us his view of what needs to happen with the leaving cert. and how this situation has affected him.

The reality for around 60,000 Leaving Cert students is that we’re having our lives put on the line for the sake of exams. The government is showing no regard for our futures, our health or anything else. We’ve been told they need to go ahead for ‘tradition’, but this will prove a fatal one as I will outline in this article. The Leaving Certificate examinations need to be cancelled immediately. There are multiple reasons why the Leaving Certificate exams this year should be cancelled.

Firstly, the academic issue. Exams going ahead in August or even as early as July, as was suggested by the announcement, will disadvantage students severely. We have so many different students from so many different circumstances, and running the exams will negatively affect their academic results, potentially meaning they could miss out on a chance at third level education. There is a significant amount of students who have not completed the course for their Leaving Cert, and will have to teach themselves the course, which puts them at a disadvantage against other students, as the Leaving Cert is directly a competition for each grade. Worse than this, there are students out there who cannot either complete the course or study for multiple reasons. There are students who are living in direct provision, hotels, temporary accommodation, places where they cannot get their study done – households where people do not have the facilities necessary to get the work they need to do done, and this will negatively influence their results. There are students who don’t have internet access and will struggle to get the study that they need done, nor get the assignments from their teachers that they need to do. The existing system of going ahead with the exams will harm their already hindered chances of getting a third level education, and that is not okay.

As well as this, every exam student in the country has this one thing in common: if the exams go ahead in July or August, they will be going from 16 weeks of being off school straight into full blown exams, that will determine the rest of their life. After missing so much school, it is frankly illogical that they would be expected to go straight into the Leaving Cert. This is why postponement is not a good alternative as well – the longer you postpone, the longer students have been out of school, thus the worse the exam results will get. Teachers will not teach during the summer, students would have summer jobs lined up, et cetera. Further to this, postponement means students might not be able to even enter into college until next year – there is very little scope for late entry into college courses, and it will cause severe disruption. Students who are going abroad will not be able to due to
their delayed Leaving Cert results – I’ve applied for a course in the University of Maastricht and got a conditional acceptance into there, and with a postponed Leaving Cert I’m unlikely to get my results in time.

However, the academic aspect of the Leaving Cert is not the only place where there are issues with holding the exams. Amidst a literal health crisis, holding exams is a terrible idea, as it puts the lives of
tens of thousands of people at direct risk for the sake of holding a few exams. We are in the middle of the worst health crisis Ireland has seen in decades, and there is a severe risk of the virus spreading through any contact at all, especially when it has been predicted that COVID-19 will continue for a very long time. If we have anywhere between 20 and 150 exam students in one hall, and one of them has the virus, then it will spread, and soon that one will become two, then three, and so on. There is no scope for 2 metre social distancing in an exam hall – you’d need to keep them 2 metres apart inside the exam hall, outside of it, outside the bathrooms, coming into the school itself, and then you’d have the exam attendant coming close to them all to hand out and collect papers, etc.

To hold the exams in July, August or in fact any time within the next few months, when we’re predicted to have a very severe amount of fatalities from the coronavirus, is a blatant disregard for public health.This isn’t just a case of ‘some students will feel sick’. This is a case of the government allowing the lives of students with underlying conditions (such as cancer, diabetes and asthma) who are vulnerable to this disease to be put on the line for the sake of what Joe McHugh has called
‘tradition’. The parents and relatives of these people will be put at further risk – myself included. My father suffers from chronic myeloid leukaemia, for which he takes immunosuppressant drugs, and
with his condition, he is very vulnerable to the disease, so to make students in these situations do these exams and put at risk the lives of people around them is totally unfair. The only alternative to this problem is to totally scrap the exams and replace them with another
form of grading, such as estimated grades by teachers. If teachers combine scores from mocks, Christmas tests, assignments and other such pieces of schoolwork as well as their honest opinion on
what their student would get, it would provide a fair and honest estimate on what sort of grades that student would get in the actual exams if they were to go ahead.

 It will be much more accurate than students doing exams that they are not properly prepared for, and less perilous to them health-wise. This may not be a perfect solution in some people’s eyes, but there is no perfect solution amidst this crisis. This is the one that will do the least harm to people. The risk of running exams is a perilous and unfair risk to place upon sixth years in Ireland and their families. The Leaving Cert needs to be cancelled for this year and soon, to prevent the spread of this disease any further, and allow students a fair passage into third level education.

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