Leaving Cert: It’s ‘jia you’, as 300 students make history by sitting first exam in Mandarin

‘Fair yet challenging’ paper as pupils enjoy opportunity to study ‘subject that was different from anything else’

Students Aoife Liu and Diyora Sidikova at Our Lady's Grove Secondary School, Goatstown, with the Mandarin Chinese paper. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Katherine Donnelly

Up to 300 Leaving Cert students made history yesterday as they sat the first ever State exam in Mandarin Chinese.

In one Dublin school, candidates entered the exam hall with a motivating “jia you” ringing in their ears. It is a popular Chinese expression of encouragement, which translates literally as “add oil” and it was teacher Niamh McNally’s way of cheering on her students to do their best.

The five Mandarin Chinese candidates at Our Lady’s Grove, Goatstown, came out of the exam happy.

Ms McNally, whose own study of Chinese started at Maynooth University when she took it as a module for her arts degree, said she “really liked” the inaugural Leaving Cert exam.

“I thought it was very fair, yet challenging. There were very good options, with good opportunities for students to get marks and great opportunities to be challenged,” she said.

Among her students was Aoife Liu of Sandyford, whose parents are Chinese, and who loved the opportunity to sit a Leaving Cert exam in her family’s language.

Carla Quinlan, also from Sandyford, took up Mandarin because she wanted to be involved in a new opportunity and found that because she is a visual learner, the way the Chinese language writing system is based on characters rather than an alphabet worked well for her.

Abir Lamchaali, of Ballinteer, also enjoyed the visual aspect of learning Chinese. “I struggle with other languages, but I really enjoy artistic things,” she said.

Diyora Sidikova, of Clonskeagh, also has French and Russian under her belt, and embraced Mandarin as an opportunity to “study a subject that was different from anything else I was doing”. The fifth student was Sanda Sanduta.

Mandarin went on the Leaving Cert curriculum in 2020, as part of the Government’s Foreign Languages Strategy, which aims to broaden uptake in language learning generally and to increase the variety of languages on offer.

Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese were also formally added to the curriculum – which means they are taught in school – at that time and the first Leaving Cert exams in these, as curricular subjects, also took place yesterday.

A further 769 students sat Leaving Cert exams in 15 non-curricular language subjects: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Latvian, Maltese, Modern Greek, Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian and Swedish.

Later in the day, up to 7,800 students sat well-received Agricultural Science papers, which had a strong focus on sustainability and conservation topics.

Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) subject representative Ciarán Dunne, of St Ciarán’s Community School, Kells, Co Meath, described the higher-level paper as a “challenging yet fair test for students”.

It’s the second year of assessment on a modernised syllabus and Teachers’ Union of Ireland representative Séamus Hynes said the questions were straightforward, but “there was lot of calculations to be done”.

Meanwhile, the 2022 junior cycle exams wrapped up with a “fair enough” graphics paper, according to teacher Liam Quinn, an ASTI subject representative of St Jarlath’s, Tuam, Co Galway. Students were relieved to see that while there were eight questions on the sample paper, the actual exam had only six.