And so, we are at the end of our student series.
Over the last month, we have spoken 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, Clonaslee College and Mountmellick CS.
So finally, it is Emo native and Scoil Chriost Ri student Kerrie Costello.
1 – What is your daily routine at the moment?
For the first few weeks after the schools closed, I really struggled in trying to get myself into a daily routine. It’s very difficult to stay concentrated when there’s such little structure and so many distractions. I’m the type of person who would rather be working in a school setting and the confinement of a classroom – so getting used to the whole home-schooling aspect has certainly been a challenge.
I think I finally came to a bit of realisation over the Easter break that it was time to pull up the socks and knuckle down, after having a few weeks to adjust to the current situation. At present, I’m doing my best to try wake up a bit earlier each day, I’ll get something to eat and then try to tackle assigned work. We were advised to try follow our timetable as much as possible, as if we were still in school. I found this quite difficult to be honest, as some teachers were giving out a lot more work to do than others, so I found myself prioritising certain subjects over others to get the work done.
Now, I just complete the work as it gets sent out, and I try to prioritize it according to the due dates. I don’t really like taking breaks, as I find it hard to get back into things, I’d rather just get stuff done and then relax. But in saying that, I do take a 10 minute break here and there to grab a snack or a drink, or listen to music. I’m also finding it difficult to do my own study, as we are receiving quite a lot of assigned work, and we’re also still trying to finish the course in certain subjects. I guess it’s each to their own when it comes to students and their daily routines.
2- What supports have your school provided for you and have they been useful?
I honestly feel like our school has been so supportive since the school closed. I cannot praise our teachers enough. Most of our teachers were ahead of the game, and were extremely organised for the outcome that eventually came upon us, as numerous Edmodo and Microsoft Teams accounts were set up to keep in contact with the students and to send work.
Each student also received their own school email address, where students and teachers can interact privately if necessary – to receive feedback on assigned work/ mock results etc.
Apart from just the academic support, our teachers, Year Head, and Guidance Counsellor have all been amazing in keeping in contact with us; not only to send work and to keep us updated on current affairs, but also to mention that they are always there for us if we need to talk.
I feel like this is extremely important. I think 6th year is the year where you form fantastic bonds with most of your teachers, so it is so reassuring to know they are still there for us during this difficult time. I certainly feel like they can empathise with us, as this is no doubt a stressful time for all teachers as well as students! We are so very lucky to have the teachers we do in Scoil Chríost Rí.
3 – Are you getting out for much exercise?
I do try to get out for exercise or fresh air every day. I’m blessed to be living in the countryside, so the walks are always very beneficial to not only the body, but also the mind. For me, exercise is one of the best ways to clear the head and take a break.
I’m definitely missing the soccer season in school, and of course the club football season, as I’m sure many others students are too. Balancing sports/exercise with your studies is so important. But I’ve no doubt everyone will be flying fit for the league and championship next year according to all of these unbelievable 5k times being ran!!
I actually love the challenge that’s going around at the moment, especially on Instagram – “Run 5, Donate 5, and Nominate 5”. I feel like it’s a fantastic way to actually motivate people to get out and exercise, whether it is a run, walk or cycle (of course staying within the 2km radius)!
4 – How do you feel about the decision to scrap the oral/practical elements of some subjects and give everyone 100% across the board?
When I first found out, I honestly didn’t know how to feel. Especially because many weeks in Irish and French classes prior to the schools closing were focused on oral work, and we had also completed our Mock orals for both languages, which left us feeling somewhat prepared and ready for the real thing.
It is obviously very disheartening for students who have worked tirelessly for the oral examinations over the past two years or so, but I’m absolutely delighted. It was definitely a huge weight lifted off everyone’s shoulders. Of course it might seem a bit unfair that every single student is receiving the same grade for the oral exams, but sure I’m not going to complain with 100%! And I’m only delighted that everyone else is getting the same.
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?
Yeah, 100%. I find it hard to motivate myself to study as it is, and the postponement of the exams was very disheartening. In my opinion, motivation levels, along with mental health of many students, are going to deteriorate very rapidly over the coming months.
So many students have been working so hard for the past couple of months, in preparation for June, so I feel like a lot of pupils are going to burn out before the exams come around, if they do!
I think a lot of students were very frustrated and upset with the decision, as we feel like our physical and mental health is so much more important. It’s like getting to the finish line, and being told to do another lap.
6 – Are you able to interact with your friends? And if so, how are you doing this?
Yes of course, I’d be gone mad if I couldn’t! Due to the lockdown and social distancing rules, we are all missing each other fierce. During difficult times like these, I think we learn to appreciate each other and also the use of technology a bit more!
All social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Facetime are used now more than ever to keep in contact. Zoom is also great for group video calls. I’m sure everyone’s Screen Time on their phones has increased just a little bit more than usual!
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?
Teenagers have definitely been portrayed to be the main problem for ignoring social distancing guidelines. Of course they are correct to an extent, but I think anyone found ignoring the rules should be blamed accordingly, no matter what age group!
I think during a time like this, we all need to play our part and stick together, and all of the unfair criticism towards the younger generation really doesn’t help, especially because it doesn’t apply to all of us.
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?
I think an even further postponement would be extremely unfair. If it is unsafe for us to start our exams in late July, I feel like the best decision would be to cancel them completely and come up with another alternative – whether that be online testing or a predicted grading system.
If the crisis does continue, no solution to the Leaving Certificate exams is going to be deemed ‘fair’, and unfortunately not everyone is going to agree on things. This worldwide pandemic is much more important than exams, and the health of all students needs to be taken into consideration.
9 – Anything else you would like to add?
I think it’s extremely unfair and disheartening for anyone to inform a student on what the appropriate reaction should have been towards the postponement of the Leaving Cert, or even the decision taken on the oral examinations. These decisions will most certainly affect people in various different ways, and they will have different ways of trying to cope. I think it’s crazy how the whole ‘tradition’ involving the Leaving Cert is more important than considering our opinions. The fact that we’re the ones sitting the exams and have the least say is fairly frustrating to say the least.
Knowing that all 6th years are in the same boat as me right now, is a bit more reassuring. But it’s also very upsetting knowing we cannot spend the last couple of weeks with each other, creating memories or graduating. In saying that, we have definitely all came together to support each other as a year group through this tough time, and it’s so nice to know we’re not alone in what we’re going through.