My name is Leanne Donegan. I am a sixth-year student. I, like my fellow Leaving Cert students, have been anxious and worried by the pandemic that has ripped through our country. I feel very fortunate and privileged to come from a loving family. I have WIFI available to me and a strong support system of teachers, family and fellow students. This has made it easier to cope with the bizarre circumstances. But this is not the case for everyone. The majority of students have been struggling but our voices have finally been heard. Over twenty-six thousand Leaving Cert students signed a petition for the State Examinations to be cancelled, it may have taken the Government longer than we would have liked, but they finally heard our call. I believe their decision to cancel the Leaving Cert is the correct one. I believe that this decision is not only fair, but it will save lives. There may be those who do not agree with the decision, but I believe it is for the best. I agree with the government’s decision for the following reasons;
A 2019 study states that 15.7% of the Irish population are living below the poverty line, 18.4% of which are students and school goers. This is a huge number of students who may not have had access to an internet connection in the past two months, due to their economic status. This lack of broadband may have inhibited them from attending the online classes that both students and teachers have been relying hugely on. These online classes have been vital for Leaving Cert preparation. It is the only way we have had left to try finish our curriculum. These students could have potentially fallen behind due to no fault of their own. They have not been receiving the help and resources that they would have had access to, if the schools were still open. The decision to cancel the Leaving Cert, gives them the opportunity to be judged on the work that they have completed before this terrible pandemic. Their grades will not suffer because of their family's economic status. This gives them the opportunity to have a better future. Their grades will mirror the work they have put in during the last two years. The introduction of predictive grading has given these students the equality and opportunity they deserve.
Many students struggle with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia and Executive Function. These students rely greatly on their teachers and assistants to help them with many aspects of school life. These students now have limited resources. They have been left to prepare for the Leaving Cert without the support and guidance that they were dependent on in the classroom. Irregular class calls are insufficient, especially with the constant distraction of home life. It would have been unfair to put these students who are entitled to extra support at a disadvantage. This may have affected their overall grade in the State Examinations, not to mention their well-being, if the predictive grading system had not been introduced. The predictive grading system allows them to be graded on work that they have completed with the extra resources and help that they are warranted. This is imperative, as no student should feel at a disadvantage, for reasons and circumstances beyond their control.
Some students throughout the country live in unstable families. Families in which drugs, alcohol and violence are the norm. Due to current restrictions, these students do not get a break from this unsafe environment. They cannot simply go to the library or to a friend’s house to escape the situation or to complete school work. They unable to go to school to learn in an environment away from the pain and suffering of their home-lives. These students have been forced to endure the impact of the abuse all day long. They have had no break or escape. The predictive grading system will be of great benefit to them, as they may not have had time to study or to attend class calls due to this unsafe environment. They may not have been prepared for the postponed Leaving Certificate in July. Therefore, it is great that they will be judged on work that was completed in the times spent away from the turbulence of their family life. Their situation has been taken into account and the awful circumstances they have had to endure. Predictive grades give them the chance they deserve, the chance to fulfill their full potential.
Many students have had to take on the role of carer in their households. They can no longer rely on trained home help staff to look after their vulnerable family members, such as parents, grandparents or siblings. This is not an easy thing to do. Many have been left with the task of looking after their younger siblings, as their parents may be required to work and the creches are closed. This increased responsibility may leave the students with little free time to study. It adds to their work load and may cause stress and anxiety. This is why I believe that the predictive grading system will benefit them. The extra difficulties that they have had to endure during the lock-down will not impact their overall grade. They will not be at a loss of points, for having stepped up and looked after those who needed them.
The Youth Mental Health in Ireland and Northern Ireland evidence report of 2018, states that one in ten adolescents will suffer from mental health disorders severe enough to cause impairment. This statistic was released before the effects of Covid 19 changed our lives. I can only imagine that the statistic has changed drastically, not for the better. Students have been forced to stay at home. They have had limited contact with their friends and family. It is a very lonely and sombre time for us all. Not to forget those who are grieving a loved one taken by this killer virus. Over 1200 people have been lost, each of these individuals having left behind friends and family to mourn them. The upset of this pandemic, the feelings of isolation and the weight of this grief, would have only been heightened by the stress of the Leaving Cert, if it went ahead. The well-being of my fellow students would have been at stake. We were so close to the end of our two years of hard work, before Covid 19 changed our lives. Our motivation has been zapped by weeks of death and despair. But now, the mental well-being and safety of the Irish students have been put first. The voice of those calling for predictive grades has been heard. The decision to cancel the Leaving Cert has saved us from three more months of anxiety and stress. We will be judged on work we completed in times of normality, before the lock-down, before, when we could leave our house for things other than exercise and essentials. Before ‘two meters’, was the only thing going through our minds. Before, hand sanitizer was like gold dust. We can be proud of our grades, knowing they have not been impacted by months of worry and uncertainty.
Just like our mental health, our physical health will no longer be put at risk. Many students suffer from underlying health conditions such as asthma and diabetes. It would have been impossible for anyone to know how many adolescents have health conditions that they are unaware of. We are all vulnerable to this virus, some more than others. It would not have been fair to risk our lives by expecting us to take the Leaving Cert surrounded by other students. We have seen the affects that mass gatherings and human contact has had, over 20,000 people have contracted Covid 19 and the figure is still rising. We have all followed the restrictions and remained at home for the last two months, but our efforts would have been undone if the Leaving Cert went ahead. Over 50,000 students and their families would be left vulnerable once again. It only takes one cough, one sneeze or the slightest of contact to recirculate the virus. We are told to not be in the presence of an individual for more than fifteen minutes, therefore our two and a half hour exams would have been too big a risk. We are entitled to a safe alternative and finally that’s what we have been given. The government has prioritised our health and well-being, over an exam. The predicative grades are a safer alternative. An alternative that will not jeopardize our health or the health of those around us. For this I am truly thankful.
The government have solidified the fact that students’ health is more important that an exam. That, in these unforeseen circumstances we can adapt and find alternatives.This is truly remarkable. The Leaving Cert students of 2020, who called for this alternative have been heard. The students have not been forgotten. Not all students may agree with the decision to cancel the Leaving Cert, but not all students have to experience the struggles that others face on a daily basis. The twenty-six thousand students who signed the petition to cancel the Leaving Cert, did not do so in vain. Their needs have been considered. The exam has not been prioritised over the health and well-being of the students. Predictive grades have given us the opportunity to be judged solely on the work and effort we have put in during our years of schooling. We deserve and have been given the opportunity to complete our time in secondary school in a safe and fair way. I thank the government for seeing that the Leaving Cert Examination is not worth putting so many individuals at risk mentally, physically and emotionally. I know this decision must not have been an easy one, but I hope they can be proud of this decision, knowing that they have put the health and well-being of the Irish students first. In a time of such uncertainty, we can appreciate this clarity.