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Leaving Cert Lockdown Letters: 'The Government's decision has inflicted untold misery on students'

As controversy mounts around the postponement and cancellation of state exams, Irish students share their opinions and stories in this special edition of our 'Lockdown Letters' series

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Leaving Cert Lockdown Letters contributor Jennifer Flynn pictured in Courtmacsherry, west Cork.
Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Leaving Cert Lockdown Letters contributor Jennifer Flynn pictured in Courtmacsherry, west Cork. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Three Leaving Cert students from across the country share their thoughts and opinions on the upcoming exams.

Three Leaving Cert students from across the country share their thoughts and opinions on the upcoming exams.

Emily Erskine (18) from Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

Emily Erskine (18) from Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

Ciara Gallagher (18) from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan

Ciara Gallagher (18) from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan

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Leaving Cert Lockdown Letters contributor Jennifer Flynn pictured in Courtmacsherry, west Cork. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Students around the country respond to the postponement and cancellation of state exams.

'The mental well-being of young people is not being given strong enough consideration'

Jennifer Flynn (19) from Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty

Thousands of Leaving Certificate students are currently consumed by a feeling of betrayal as our voices have been ignored by the Government.

The postponement of the Leaving Certificate was announced on April 10 by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. This decision, which impacts 61,053 of us, was made without extensively consulting a single student.

I recognise the overwhelming pressure that the Government is under but I am left with no choice but to write this open letter in the hope that this decision is revoked.

I appreciate the necessary and extreme actions that the Irish Government has had to take in its attempts to flatten the curve of Covid-19.

However, since the announcement of the closure of all secondary schools on March 12, young people have felt forgotten. We have received no information or direction.

The decision to cancel orals and award all students 100pc was by no means a perfect solution, but it did at least ease the immediate concerns of worried students.

Following on from this, the April 10 announcement that the summer exams would be delayed came as a shock to many.

It soon emerged that we, the students, had not been adequately consulted. In fact, we had been ignored.

In a students union (ISSU) survey, 49pc of Leaving Cert candidates who took part were in favour of 'cancelling the upcoming exams and using a predicted grade model'.

Only 18.9pc opted for the exams to be rescheduled to a date later in the summer.

The disappointment currently felt by students towards Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, is palpable.

The emotional health and mental well-being of young people is not being given strong enough consideration. I sincerely hope that this terrible approach does not have devastating consequences for students and their families.

It has been said that this year's Leaving Certificate candidates must be treated the same as candidates from every other year. This feels particularly harsh at a time when we, along with the rest of society, face an unprecedented global crisis.

Upon announcing the postponement of the exams, Minister McHugh said: "Great work is being done by schools and teachers to connect with students and to keep them learning."

These words created an image of hope and reassurance. Unfortunately, this image is a work of fiction.

In this pandemic, effective and sustained teacher engagement through remote learning is crucial to all students.

Sadly, some teachers have not engaged with students sufficiently. Moreover, any student fortunate enough to receive comprehensive teacher engagement is at a significant advantage to others. Some students have a weak internet connection, so online teaching isn't even a possibility for them.

The Government's response to the predicted grade model proposed by the majority of students is unreasonable.

Last year, while under the scrutiny of some media outlets, the State Examination Commission (SEC) actually defended its practice of awarding hundreds of estimated grades to students.

Internal records show that the SEC takes this approach when some or all of a student's work is not available for marking due to "unique, unforeseen and exceptional circumstances".

So, there clearly is a precedent for awarding predicted grades, but the truth is somehow overlooked and the Government has chosen to senselessly uphold tradition rather than sensible reasoning.

As the Taoiseach said: "The truth is that these are extraordinary times."

Surely the extraordinary nature of life today demands extraordinary action in all sectors, including that of education, and specifically the Leaving Certificate examinations.

I strongly believe that the postponement of the Leaving Certificate exams, of which we still have no details, is unjust. It fills me with disappointment.

'Cancel the exams, give us predicted grades and usher in a bright, new era of continuous assessment'

Emily Erskine (18) from Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

I am a sixth-year student in county Donegal and, just like the majority, I am at home in lockdown.

At present, I am studying hard for a Leaving Cert that has been postponed. Most of my day is taken up with trying to finish coursework and revising what has been completed.

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Emily Erskine (18) from Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

Emily Erskine (18) from Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

Emily Erskine (18) from Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

I urge the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, to listen to the vast amount of students pleading for the Leaving Certificate to be cancelled.

The Leaving Cert exams cause a great deal of stress for young adults. We are told that everything we have done in our education up to this final year is for our Leaving Cert.

What if this pandemic stretches on longer then anticipated? Is the Government really going to allow students to go and sit an exam when they know that they could potentially be infectious?

Postponing the Leaving Cert is making students feel more anxious and stressed. It feels like we are running a race and the finishing line was in sight, but it has now been picked up and moved out of sight again. All of this pressure is still looming over our heads.

Our teachers are doing the best they can in challenging circumstances to try and accommodate us, but this arrangement doesn't work for some students who find it easier to learn in a classroom environment and not online. Many students have such a bad WiFi connection that they cannot engage in online classes.

Teachers will be giving up their time to try and facilitate our needs. What about their families and their health?

They have done so much to try to make everything as easy as possible for us, but who's making sure things are easy for them?

They will have to go into school for two weeks, where they will of course be surrounded by students. This will put them and their families at risk. We need to think not only of the mental and physical health of students, but of the teachers too.

Reading comments online, some say that we are being selfish. They believe that we only want the Leaving Cert cancelled because we won't be getting a summer.

The reality is that we aren't going to get the summer we wanted anyway, although we do deserve some sort of summer (even if it consists of students living with their families in quarantine).

We need to relax our brains from all the stress and pressure built up over the last six years.

Does the minister expect us to go straight from a stressful exam in July, into college, without a break?

There are so many reasons why these exams shouldn't go ahead, but the main ones relate to releasing the stress, anxiety and pressure.

Please give the Leaving Cert students of 2020 predicted grades. Keep the teachers and students safe this summer.

Trust the professionalism of the teachers and their knowledge of their students to give us a just grade for our Leaving Cert.

There is time to assess the predicted grades before the summer, thus making it possible for college places to be secured and accepted.

I know this isn't the traditional method, but it might set a new precedent for continuous assessment in exams in the future.

We hear of the stress being caused by the Leaving Certificate every year. It makes headline news.

Maybe this is the time, this is the year, to make a change for the better. Continuous assessment is the fairest way to showcase a student's ability.

'The worry I have for my family is enough without the added pressure of the exams'

Ciara Gallagher (18) from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan

I completely disagree with the decision made regarding the Leaving Cert.

At a time when the whole world is in a state of panic, it is unfair that 17- and 18-year-olds are somehow expected to be immune from that intense feeling of anxiety.

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Ciara Gallagher (18) from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan

Ciara Gallagher (18) from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan

Ciara Gallagher (18) from Carrickmacross, Co.Monaghan

It is a sad fact that some of us have and will lose loved ones, yet we are expected to just keep going as normal.

Many of us don't have classes now because the internet connection at home isn't strong enough. We haven't finished our courses and, in the case of some students, we have to take care of younger siblings.

Countries around the world have cancelled their exams but we haven't. Why is this so? Even the Olympics are cancelled!

The uncertainty is cruel and very damaging to our wellbeing. It is quite clear that students' opinions aren't valued.

The Leaving Cert is already stressful enough without a global pandemic to deal with.

I believe that postponing the Leaving Cert is very wrong. This year already feels endless, yet somehow it has been made longer.

Of course there are more pressing issues, such as people becoming unemployed. However, this adds to our stress as the people becoming unemployed are our parents.

I believe predictive grades is the most fair solution.

It is deeply disheartening to witness the voice of students being ignored. Postponement was the least popular option, according to the ISSU survey.

If exams go ahead in August, sixth year will have spanned 12 months, which is ludicrous.

Sixth year is commonly referred to as "the most stressful year in your life". With this in mind, how can it be expected of teenagers to keep going this long while the world faces a global trauma?

We should be allowed to spend quality time with our families, time during which we try and get through the lockdown together.

As soon as the announcement about the postponement of exams was made, all of my friends were distraught, as was I.

I have a twin sister, so there is double the stress in my house. As well as this, if my brother contracted coronavirus he would be at a high risk of becoming critically ill. My Dad also happens to be a frontline health worker.

It is all too much to bear. The worry I have for my family is enough without the added pressure of the exams.

I have worked since first year but now I know I won't reach my potential due to the mental strain this is having on me and the fact that we are not being taught.

This is why, for the mental and physical health of students, I believe predictive grades is the only way to go.

We are living history. The challenges posed by Covid 19 are similar the world over but everybody’s experience of this emergency will be different. In this special series, ‘Lockdown Letters' gives our readers at home and across the globe an opportunity to share their stories about how the Coronavirus and the measures to tackle its spread are impacting their lives in these unprecedented times.

Please email your submission (400 words max.) to stories@independent.ie along with a photograph. We will publish as many letters as possible on Independent.ie and a selection in print every week.

Irish Independent