Tomás, (pictured middle) 18 from Offaly and a Jigsaw volunteer gives his story:
The average Irish student will spend six years in secondary school. The final two years of these six are spent with one thing in mind: the Leaving Cert.
For better or for worse (it’s for worse), every student knows from the minute they start fifth year that the exams they sit in just under two years’ time can change the direction of our lives. It’s the focal point of second level education. Those who did the Leaving Cert remember with a faint sense of horror, mingled with the triumph of having it behind them. It’s a landmark in a young Irish person’s life, as is their 18th birthday and the day they first move out of home.
So, where does that leave me? As of Friday, 8 May, I am part of a year group that will never sit the Leaving Cert, at least in its traditional sense. We will receive calculated grades, with the option of repeating individual exams. Like any other path that could have been taken, it was a controversial decision, but one that seems to be genuinely in the interest of the wellbeing of Irish students.
A lot of us are relieved. Of course we are. Isn’t this the dream of every Irish student, to have the exams cancelled, to narrowly avoid one of the most stressful sets of exams many will ever sit? With Covid-19 looking like it’s here for the long haul, we don’t have to worry about the health implications of sitting the tests in exam centres, paranoid about becoming victims or vectors of the virus on top of our existing exam anxiety.
Access to technology
I’m one of the lucky ones. For the last two years I’ve been able to work and study in supportive environments at home and in school. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had an internet connection and access to technology which are new necessities for distanced education. Others aren’t so fortunate.
Many of my friends are already considering other options, changing the order of their course preferences. In some cases they’re steeling themselves for a year-long delay to starting college if they need to sit a written exam at some unspecified time next autumn.
Reducing the risk
Things aren’t perfect, but they could be much worse. If disrupting the Leaving Cert is part of the price we pay to reduce the effects of Covid, it’s a price that will be accepted and, for some, celebrated.
On the other side, there is the emotional upheaval this has created. The last few weeks have brought an unexpected, vague ending to the most significant year of our school lives so far.