Leaving Cert 2021 needs to be cancelled to give students peace of mind

Alex Mulhare

Should the Leaving Cert be cancelled? For the past month this has been the question at the forefront of sixth year students’ minds, as well as that of their parents.

Most of us have endured a tumultuous start to the year, although it seems that sixth year students have been faced with more anxiety than they should ever had to have been burdened with.

From a mental health perspective alone, the constant uncertainty surrounding our state exams appears to attain new heights with each passing week.

The coronavirus pandemic has merged with the importance that our country places upon a glorified memory test, only to produce a bigger academic headache than any young person should have to endure, not to mention the 60,000 students who sit the Leaving Cert exams each year.

January 2021 opened on a fairly sombre note with Ireland’s rate of positive coronavirus infections breaking records set during the initial outbreak, eventually resulting in our small island attaining the highest rate of infection and its subsequent spread in the world.

This information is troubling enough to deal with on its own, and soon enough the return to schools after the holiday period was delayed by one week, only for this announcement to be disregarded and replaced with an order to return to online classes.

Although virtual classrooms are draining, difficult, and oftentimes completely inaccessible, this was accepted as the safest way to go forward until Minister for Education Norma Foley began to emphasise her desire for a traditional Leaving Cert.

This is a standpoint that she has not yet backed down from, despite intense reactions from sixth year students and their parents on social media — those who are actively dealing with high levels of stress from the prospect of a traditional exam, unlike the government ministers who have consistently failed to consider this aspect of the situation.

Scrapping an original plan to have Leaving Cert students attend school three days a week during the most contagious phase of the pandemic that Ireland has seen thus far, Minister for Education Norma Foley continued to reiterate the apparent need for exams to go ahead as they would in a typical year.

As the older sibling of a sixth year student, I have seen the damage that the lack of clarity has caused first-hand. There was a brief sense of security in the class of 2020 being allowed to receive predicted grades, as many students were told by their teachers to expect a similar situation, however, this was all but lost during the past month.

Students stand to gain little from sitting a traditional exam when they have not been vaccinated and frankly, many classes are not even close to finishing the course due to the school time that was lost last year as a result of the first wave of the pandemic.

It would seem that Leaving Cert students are being dragged towards an exam that the vast majority of them will be underprepared for, with a fragile state of mental security in their ability to achieve the results that they want. All of this needless stress just to appease a government that has refused to listen to their worries at every step of the journey.

Alex Mulhare

Image Credit: UCD Twitter