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Studying during Coronavirus: Mountmellick CS student on prepping for state exams in a pandemic

We’re nearing the end of our student series now as we speak to pupils in every secondary school in Laois about how Coronavirus has impacted on their Leaving Cert.

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 students from Portlaoise CBS, Scoil Chriost Ri, Portlaoise College, Heywood, St Fergal’s Rathdowney, Mountrath CS, Colaiste Iosagain and Clonaslee College. 

Next up, it is Mountmellick native and Mountmellick CS student Hannah Ledesma.

1 – What is your daily routine at the moment?

For the last couple of weeks, my schoolwork routine has been centred around online assignments. We were initially advised by teachers to make a comprehensive study timetable and to follow it as best we could, but now that all subjects have an online support platform, we have been given most of our work on a weekly or daily basis. I’m usually up by 9am, and I would get 3 or 4 assignments done in a day.

Since the news about the postponement of the Leaving Cert, I have been taking a break from schoolwork. The thought of studying in this environment until late July is really hard to comprehend for me – I think everyone deserves some time off to come to terms with it all.

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

The guidance and support we have received from our teachers has helped massively in adjusting to this new routine. Like other schools, Google Classroom and Edmodo is used for assigning and submitting work. Most teachers are there at our disposal if we have any questions, which is really encouraging. In saying that, I think there has been difficulty in adapting to this new form of teaching on both ends of the spectrum.

Teachers are really working hard to stay connected to us, and that must be praised. There isn’t much more I could ask for in terms of instruction, although nothing is as effective as classroom-based learning in my opinion.

3 – Are you getting out for much exercise?

I try to get out at least once a day for some fresh air, which has been easy enough considering the weather we’re having. In saying that, pre quarantine me was a lot more active. The absence of gyms and clubs has made it difficult for me to stay motivated, especially when we’re being advised to stay at home.

The mountain of home workout videos – that seem to be pervading every aspect of social media – also don’t do much to motivate me, if anything the opposite…

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

I understand that the decision to scrap the orals was made on account of them posing as a risk to students’ safety and ultimately, I think that’s fair. From a more selfish perspective, I was gutted to see them being cancelled.

A lot of students and teachers worked tirelessly for the orals, and regardless of everyone receiving the same grade, I think a sense of anti-climax was definitely felt on a nationwide level. My sraiths don’t deserve to be set on fire like I had pre-planned!

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?

This is undoubtedly my biggest concern. The Leaving Cert is quite often compared to a 9-month marathon, and we are advised to take it slow and steady so as not to burn out. With the unexpected prolonging of this “marathon” an extra 2 months, I think it is inevitable that a lot of students will burn out.

The last school term is known for seeing exponential growth of students’ progress, with most of the courses being finished and time dedicated solely to exam practice. Knowing that we won’t have this term and may not see this progress is really daunting for me. I feel like there is only so much remote learning one can do before being stuck in a rut – continuing like this until late July/ August will be a challenge.

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

Online interaction with friends is customary in this day and age, so there really hasn’t been much of a difference in staying in touch with them. I Snapchat and text my friends daily, and we Zoom or Facetime at least once a week.

In a sense, we’re really lucky to be so accessible to each other during this time. It’s comforting to be able to check up on friends that live far away, but also to escape from my family every once in a while.

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?

In relation to social distancing, I think anyone found ignoring the rules should be blamed accordingly. In the beginning young people seemed more willing to dismiss the rules because of the idea that they were ‘immune’, but seeing all of the young casualties across the world has definitely hindered that belief. I think most people understand the significance of their actions now – it’s great to see such solidarity among Irish people.

Our portrayal with regards to the postponement of the Leaving Cert is a different story. A lot of people, notably not 6th year students, were quick to jump down the throat of those complaining about the government’s decision.

I think it’s beyond unfair for anyone to inform a student on what the appropriate reaction should have been. This postponement will affect people in countless different ways – one person’s delight should not trump another person’s disappointment.

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?

Effects of this virus will undoubtedly remain in the country long past the summer months. I think trying to apply the traditional Leaving Cert to a circumstance far from orthodox, even if the worst of it is over before summer, is a bit of a push. The thought of sitting in an exam hall writing about imagery in Hamlet, while a worldwide pandemic that has stripped the country’s economy and killed thousands of people continues to exist outside the walls, seems almost amusing.

Family members, neighbours and friends have died – yet we are being advised to ‘stay focused’ and continue to work like we would have if the virus didn’t exist. I’m aware that no decision will yield a perfect outcome, but in my opinion the exams taking place during summer will not accurately reflect the work put in by students over the past two years.

If the crisis continues into July, postponing the exams again would only disrupt the path we decide to take after school on a much greater scale. Of course, everyone’s path in life has been disrupted by the virus and by no means do 6th year students have it worst, but this disruption is avoidable.

Replacing the exams with predicted grades would allow for a much fairer outcome, reflecting the continuous effort that has been made over the past 2 years of work. The current resolution only reflects a student’s ability to perform under the pressure of these unprecedented times. There’s also the concern of the virus affecting a student – be it directly or indirectly – which would obviously impact their performance in the exams.

This is an extraordinary circumstance, and I don’t think it can be treated with an ordinary solution.

9 – Anything else you would like to add?

Putting aside my own thoughts and worries about the coming months, we do owe it to our leaders and essential workers for really putting their best foot forward in mitigating the virus.

Although the Leaving Cert is definitely at the forefront of every students’ mind, I think it’s important, as well as comforting, to see that everyone is in this struggle together and everyone is doing their utmost best to get through this. Everyone’s efforts are hugely valued and do not go unnoticed!

SEE ALSO – Brave Laois woman praises staff at St Fintan’s hospital following sad passing of husband

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