All secondary students should have been starting their Easter holidays this Friday. A time for a bit of freedom, with Leaving Cert students in particular using it as a time for a more relaxed study regime. Instead, we are caught in the half light, not knowing whether school will resume at all or maybe on a phased basis for exam classes. The phrase ''school is out'' has taken on a new meaning.
n the beginning it seemed like a bit of a lark. Parents had the best of intentions. Teachers in general have put huge time and used the most up-to-date resources to ensure their students were not going to be left behind.
Yet you can bring a horse to water but you can`t make him drink. In the beginning compliance with assignments was good; as time went by it has dipped. Anyone in the school sector who says anything different is delusional. The most motivated students and parents will continue to work hard on making the best of this crisis but a very high percentage will do less and less. Especially the non exam years.
School is vital for the less motivated: they have structure, guidance and sanctions. That does not work through a computer. Give this another month and parents will be pulling their hair out - if they aren't already. Maybe the role of teachers will be more appreciated. Nobody is looking for thanks but the profession has suffered many blows below the belt recently.
The representative unions have not helped the cause. At times they have given the impression of teachers as selfish individuals who want more money and less work. That is not a fair assessment of most teachers I work with. Anyway, I gave up on some of the teacher unions a long time ago: they do not represent a modern, flexible, dynamic profession.
School is a social melting pot. Students learn as much from each other as they do from teachers. There is order which may not prevail elsewhere in their lives; there is also an understanding of courtesy, respect, leadership, tolerance and all the universal values which build a healthy society. And then there is sport, drama, debates, musicals and a thousand other things which develop personality.
That is the atmosphere. It is one of certainty. Now we have the opposite. Students in Leaving Cert are looking for guidance. The lack of it causes stress and anxiety, something which older people find hard to understand but I can say that it is a growing issue and seems to have exploded in the last five years.
I have my own theories, just from experience, and a lot of it is down to the use of mobile phones. These toys now help to connect school to home for educational purposes. But other times - and now, too - they help to create a virtual world that can include porn and the dark web. Right now, those who seek isolation have plenty of time to connect to this make-believe world. The result, when schools resume, will be more work for counsellors to deal with - anxiety, depression and school refusal.
The Leaving Cert is therefore important. It is a goal to aim for. Most schools could safely carry it out too, with even a slight relaxation of existing health guidelines. I did not agree with cancelling the orals.
They could have been carried out while still respecting social distancing and sanitising. Worse was the awarding of full marks to everybody. It is the only exam I ever heard of that you get full marks for not sitting it.
If the minister got half a dozen principals together they would quickly tell him how to get the Leaving Cert done. It is always the boots on the ground that win wars. Each school could take on their own social distancing. It would mean four or five in rooms, but all the rooms could be used. Provide hand sanitisers and washing facilities at each centre; clean desks after each exam. After each paper all students should go home, or if they're waiting for another exam, staff should maintain safe distancing.
Supervising could be carried out by the existing school staff, on a rotation basis. There could hardly be any objection to this and exams would be carried out to the highest standards. As there would be no travelling or any other expenses being paid to outside supervisors, this money could go to paying the teachers. If the Junior Cert was abandoned, which would not bring the sky falling in, then that lump of supervision money could go towards the Leaving Cert. It's a practical solution to a difficult but not impossible situation.
This should be Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Perhaps officials have already come up with this plan but I don't know of any principal who was asked about abandoning the orals, never mind agreeing with the idea. Students now want a bit of certainty and the minister should give it to them, sooner rather than later.
I am sure the State Exams Commission has its own ideas on how this Leaving Cert process should work. It is a body I have little confidence in. When a young girl has to go to the High Court to get her rightful place in college, it shows remarkable arrogance on behalf of the SEC. And they cannot even send Leaving Cert results online to schools. When I wrote this in the paper some time ago, people in private industry thought I was joking - but the SEC don`t even have the points on the student's result sheet.
I was hopeful Minister McHugh would tell them to get their act together. Perhaps he hasn't had the time, but any good software specialist would have the results of the Leaving Cert, the total points and the first offer of a course in college on the one sheet. However, we live in a parallel planet to that ideal. Worse still, this abject inefficiency has been tolerated for far too long.
For the moment, though, the Leaving Cert is on the line. The minister should make a statement soon that it is going ahead.
If a slight delay was needed later then that would be fine. We must all be willing to make adjustments and compromises. Such is life now.