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Studying during Coronavirus: Knockbeg College student on prepping for state exams in a pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting almost every aspect of our lives at the moment.

Bar those working in essential services, the rest of the population is off work and instructed to stay in their homes for the majority of the time until Tuesday May 5 at the earliest.

While around 120,000 Irish Leaving and Junior Cert students have seen their lives turned upside down in the last month.

Those set to sit the Leaving Cert, about 55,000 of them, have been particularly inconvenienced as the one set of exams they have spent the past five or six years preparing for are now in jeopardy.

They have been out of the school setting since March 13 after they were closed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. And on Friday April 10, it was announced that the schools would remain closed ‘until further notice’.

On March 19, the Department of Education announced that Leaving Cert and Junior Cert orals and practical exams were cancelled and all students would be awarded full marks.

While on April 10, it was confirmed the Leaving Cert exams set to take place in June have been postponed. They are now rescheduled for late July or early August – while the Junior Cert is off altogether.

The deadline for submission of Leaving Certificate practical and other projects, in subjects such has History, Geography, Art, PE and Construction, has also been rescheduled to either late July or early August.

All the time, students have been taken out of the routine that they have been used to for the past five or six years just moths before the all important exams.

So, we decided to reach out to the schools in Laois and ask those getting ready to sit Leaving and Junior Cert exams how they are getting on.

What their routine now is, how their school are trying to help them and whether they believe the exams should be postponed or done online if they cannot proceed on the scheduled date.

So far we have heard from Portlaoise CBS’ Eamonn DelaneyScoil Chriost Ri’s Kate Corrigan, Mountrath CS’ Seth Burns Mooney, Colaiste Iosagain’s Emma Dunne, St Fergal’s Niall Coss, Portlaoise College’s Lauren Mills,Heywood’s Dervla McDonagh, Knockbeg’s Ross Bolger,Clonaslee College’s Eva Hyland, Portlaoise CBS’ Thómas Dunne, Scoil Chriost Ri’s Grace O’Brien, Mountrath CS’ Ellen Timmons and Portlaoise College’s Igot Stankiewicz.

Next up, it is Vicarstown native and Knockbeg College student Conor Donlon.

1 – What is your daily routine at the moment?

I get up around half 8 and be ready to start working at 9 o’clock. I log on to my school Office 365 account to see what work I have been sent from teachers and then organise my day around that.

I try to follow my school timetable to add some structure to my day and a little bit of normality. I try and get out at around 4 o’clock before I go back to do another a bit until about half 6 or 7 depending on the amount of work I got or if I was caught for something else during the day (the Leaving Cert’s a great excuse for that though).

2- What supports have your school provided for you and have they been useful?

We were given an Office 365 account when we came in back in first year. There was a bit of panic the week leading up to the schools being closed, trying to make sure lads had their emails and passwords and in fairness I don’t think anyone can use the excuse of not knowing their password after the work that was put in by the teachers.

With the Office 365 teachers are sending out notes and works for us to do and the teachers are correcting any work we send in and giving plenty of feedback.

3 – Are you getting out for much exercise?

I try to get out for a run or some form of exercise every second or third day, but with the 2km radius now in place I have had to reroute my run now.

Ever since the football has been cancelled though the GAA app has been buzzing with lads putting in runs and workouts so I wouldn’t get away with doing anything. There has been a few lads guilted into doing a bit of work as well, so we are all keeping each other going.

Still though it is very easy now to not bother going for the run or getting in some exercise and I am missing the football for the motivation but also the social aspect of going to training and the matches.

4 – How do you feel about the decision to scrap the oral/practical elements of some subjects and give everyone 100% across the board?

Well so far I have only got full marks in the German and Irish oral, with the Ag Science practical pushed back to July and I have already completed my DCG project so for me it is only the languages that have been effected as of now.

To be honest, I don’t know what I think of it, obviously you will have some disappointed at this news as they maybe were relying on the oral/practical work to set them apart from the rest, then there will be some that are delighted.

It is important to remember though that the Leaving Cert is a points game and everyone getting 100% is going to push points up and the ‘bell curve’ of the number of grades is still going to have to be filled accordingly so I would be leaning towards it being a poor outcome for me.

5 – Do you find it hard to motivate yourself to study for the exams as now the date has been pushed out to late July or early August?

Yes, the first thing I thought when I heard this announcement was, ‘that’s me finished for the Easter’ and I think I will find it will extremely difficult now that I have just been landed with 8 more weeks of hard work, I was already trying to step up the work I was doing with it coming up to June but now after learning I will have to do roughly another 8 weeks of this, I have lost a lot of motivation that I was previously working off.

Before this announcement there was uncertainty on when the Leaving Cert will be and that has not changed, there are still possibly two different times for it and now also I am being expected to do an Ag Science interview maybe a week, if even before I sit my exams.

The minister for Education said this is in the interest of the students and to give them clarity but I have got neither from this announcement.

6 – Are you able to interact with your friends? And if so, how are you doing this?

Yes, I would be talking to them on social media and other platforms, so it does make it that bit easier but I do still miss school as it isn’t the same as just texting.

There isn’t as much craic or slagging going on which I do miss and you can’t have a good heated debate or argument on the phone.

7 – How do feel young people are being portrayed in the media at the moment? They are being blamed a lot for ignoring social distancing guidelines. Do you believe this is a fair criticism?

As I am doing the Leaving Cert it has been easy enough for me to abide by the social distancing guidelines and I haven’t come across any others around my age ignoring these guidelines, maybe it is different in other areas but from my perspective I think young people are getting a raw deal and we don’t deserve all the criticism that we are getting.

From what I have seen going on over the past few weeks on social media and on different news sights, it is not young people that should be on the end of all this criticism.

8 – If the Coronavirus crisis continues and you can’t sit your exams in late July or early August, do you think they should be postponed further or be cancelled altogether?

Cancel them! And allow the teachers to give us a predicted grade. As it is at the minute whether the exams are in July or August, I don’t know how they will have all the exams corrected and organised soon enough to be ready for us to start our next stage of our life whether it be working or further education.

Postponing exams is doing nothing more for us as students than adding stress and pressure to our lives and taking away what I imagined to be the best summer for us so far.

As it stands there are so many events that I had planned, that I now have to cancel because of a decision that was supposedly made in the interest of the students sitting the Leaving Cert!

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