‘This is not a normal Leaving Cert year’, says Longford student

Jessica Thompson speaks to Luke Casserly on the pressures of the Leaving Cert amid Covid-19 fears

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

‘This is not a normal Leaving Cert year’, says Longford student

Leaving Certificate student, Luke Casserly, trying to get some study in amid the Covid-19 madness Picture: Shelley Corcoran

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the country at the moment as the Covid-19 virus results in more and more closures, lay-offs and cancellations.

That creates an understandably tense environment for Leaving Certificate students who are already under the immense pressure of summer exams.

And with the oral examinations already cancelled, it’s difficult to know what will happen next.

“Right now, the Minister has said that the exams are going ahead as planned, but it's widely accepted that this may not be the case as the virus worsens,” said Leaving Certificate student at St Mel’s College, Luke Casserly.

“This makes it difficult for students to have a singular focus on studying for exams because right now we have no guarantee that they'll take place as scheduled.

“There's lots of talk about them being moved to Autumn or the introduction of some sort of estimated grades system - however, there's absolutely no certainty.

“Obviously, we're living through completely unprecedented times, and we can't expect answers straight away; however as the days and weeks of uncertainty go by, the pressure on students will only build up.

“The advice so far has been to work towards the exams like they're happening in June, but this is easier said than done at the minute.”

Luke himself has found it difficult to study for his exams outside of the school system, with a lack of structure and a huge amount of uncertainty surrounding him at the moment.

But the cancellation of oral exams for language subjects is “a positive development” and has taken a huge amount of pressure off students, Luke added.

“It's without a doubt an imperfect solution to the problem, but it's the least bad option in my view,” he said.

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“Students have spent months studying for these exams, so cancelling them and removing the marks completely would be extremely unfair.

“A digital solution, like Skyping, just wouldn't have worked out properly, and holding them in-person in any way would involve a huge risk of transmitting the virus, putting students and examiners at risk.

“This decision put student welfare first, in my view. The days leading up to the announcement were incredibly stressful and uncertain, and I felt the news brought a huge sense of relief,” he added.

“In the midst of the madness, it brought a little bit of clarity and took the weight of the exams, which were due to take place within a couple of weeks, off my shoulders.”

And while plenty of students are happy with the news, there are a number of students who are not so enthused, Luke explained.

“People put hours upon hours into studying and practicing for the orals, and many spent lots of money on grinds for them too, and now they feel that it's unfair for a student who did very little or no work to be given the same mark they're getting,” he said.

“This is definitely a valid argument, and I understand it fully, however, this is not a normal Leaving Cert year. We're living through an unprecedented international pandemic. I think a decision that puts the welfare of students and a sense of fairness first is a good one - this is much better than getting no marks at all.”

For years there have been questions as to whether the Leaving Cert examinations should be done away with and another form of assessment put in place.

For Luke, and for many students, this situation might just be the beginning of a new leaf for state examinations.

“I think this situation proves that the tradition of our examination system isn't as infallible as it's made out to be,” he remarked.

“Obviously we're in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, but when we recover, this experience may encourage us to think more creatively about how we can assess and examine our students.

“It might just spur us on to leave aside this rigid system of rote learning and standardised exams, and replace it with a more flexible system of continuous assessment which caters to the needs and skills of every individual student.”

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