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After a testing time, the class of ’21 deserve the best of luck

Irish Independent


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We’ve arrived at that time of the year, where generations of students seem to think it reasonable to forsake such frivolous habits as sleeping eating and breathing, all in the name of the Leaving Cert examinations.

And like everything else this year, these too will be unique. According to the Department of Education, Ireland is the only country in the world where students can sit their written exam and have access to calculated grades assessment, based on the estimated marks compiled by their teachers.

The arrangement speaks to the exceptional circumstances in which their final year of secondary school played out. According to the department, most students have chosen a mix of exams and accredited grades.

Yet even the environment in which the exams take place will be significantly different.

Social distancing requirements mean that students will be spread out across many more classrooms in their schools.

That the exams have been able to take place is a testament to pupils, parents, teachers and the entire education sector. They threw everything into making sure the delays and disruptions would not derail best laid plans any more than they had to.

Education Minister Norma Foley was anxious to underline the two processes for this year’s arrangements – accredited grades and the written exams – were entirely separate and would not have an impact on each other.

“It’s important to give perspective. These are not normal times,” she said.

But the State Examinations Commission, which oversees the process, is mindful of how Covid-19 has upended every element of school life. Exam papers have been designed to reflect the upheaval as far as possible.

Consequently there may be more choices to mitigate the fact that not all students have been able to complete their courses.

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As Ms Foley pointed out, it has been an unprecedented 18 months for students. The stress of the pandemic on top of the pressure of the examinations greatly enhanced the challenge. So the minister is right to make the point that this year’s students ought to be recognised and encouraged for their efforts.

Ordinarily, students find themselves slogging relentlessly, not necessarily for the love of learning, but because an exam is around the corner.

When the class of ’21 turned that corner, they found they were facing yet another brick wall.

But as the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou wrote: “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

It will be their reaction to the adversity they confront and not the adversity itself that will determines their course. If life does not necessarily get much easier for them, they have at least the consolation of knowing it has made them stronger.

Those who have come through the wringer and found success tend to agree; in the end, tests should be more about learning than merely ­passing.

The class of ’21 has learned much.

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