“The Leaving Cert: Covid Edition.”

Matthew Joyce

DCU and Maynooth University are the only two universities in Ireland that hold their semester one examinations after the Christmas break.

As a Leaving Cert 2020 student, the end result of calculated grades for all students seemed acceptable. We were at the early stages of the pandemic, and it was obvious that exams could not be held in any form without the risk of infection.

When we then look at this year, I view the ‘choice’ solution, spearheaded by many in the Irish Second-Level Student’s Union (ISSU), to have been the best option for this cohort of students for the time they were in.

The Leaving Cert of both years took place in two very different stages of the pandemic: In 2020, we did not really know as much about the virus. It was simply not feasible to hold exams back then, as the State Examinations Commission was simply not prepared with no measures, to ensure student safety.

This year, however, a lot more was known about the virus, vaccines were being rolled out. and we were starting to get a grip on what we all needed to do.

I still hold on to the opinion that if a lockdown of schools did not happen from January of this year, the Department of Education would have pushed on with having proper exams for all. They had already made adjustments to exam papers to reflect lost time in 2020. The only reason, I feel, that Accredited Grades came into fruition this year, is because students missed out on time in school in 2021.

So, as a result, I view this year’s Leaving Cert to have been the best option made of an unfortunate situation.

However, as I compare this year to last year, there appears to be one similarity that, in my view, made the experience for Leaving Cert students more unfair: hesitancy and procrastination.

In 2020, it took two months after schools closed for Calculated Grades to be announced. In 2021, it took just over a month. However, overseas, it was quite instant. For example, the UK’s GCSE and A-Level exams were cancelled immediately once schools were told to shut in January.

That was the right thing to do. But that isn’t what happened in Ireland. Instead, then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last year exams would be held “by hook or by crook”, and this past January the ASTI said they’d prefer the “ordinary Leaving Cert” to go ahead as normal. None of that happened, but the fact it was the focus at the start made the experience worse for students. Clarity was sought, clarity was not given. Not until the Government actually had a plan.

After all, what does “by hook or by crook” mean? In a pandemic, what is an “ordinary” Leaving Cert? This was a big mistake by Government – constantly preempting before any announcement or confirmation was made. That, understandably, made students much more anxious.

Overall, the experience of Leaving Cert students both this year and last year certainly hasn’t been smooth. But in the end, the outcome was as fair as could be, for the situation we were in both times.

But in the end, I think people lacked the ability to realise that no one had experienced a pandemic like this before. That being said, Government should have expected the unexpected.

Matthew Joyce.

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