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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Poppy Kane says despite the challenges, many students believe the exams give them a sense of control in an uncertain time.

WE ARE LIVING through history. This is one of the most transformative events of the 21st Century. It has brought unprecedented and unwelcome changes for everyone.

Speaking personally, sitting my Leaving Certificate during a catastrophic global pandemic is not what I had signed up for. Every year we hear how unfair it is that Leaving Cert students are pent-up inside studying as the rest of the country enjoys what has been coined “Leaving Cert Weather”.

Naturally, this weather was the only obstacle many of us had anticipated facing in the months before we sat the exams. This is no longer the case. We Leaving Certificate students are now pent-up from home along with over half the global population. Time moves at different speeds during a pandemic and days seem to become indistinct. I fear many of us still have not realised, but our world is forever changed.

Our usual interactive, physical classes are now replaced by sitting in front of a computer screen for up to eight hours a day. Homework is now submitted through emails and links, and assigned in a ‘status update’.

We understand that we do this for the safety of the ones we love, in the hope that we will one day get to embrace them in ways we never before considered such a luxury. I’m sure many of us would have held the ones we love a little tighter had we known what we were about to face.

As a sixth year student, I find my days filled with not only boredom and worry but also a new type of anxiety I’ve never known. Now, more than ever before, I fear for my future. As days melt into weeks, I find myself, like many of my peers, unsure of what lies ahead for our exams.

Already, we were anxious about everyday things like our CAO choices, where in the country we would find ourselves come September, and feeling a mix of emotions as we say goodbye to schools which have shaped us for the last six years.

We have already been affectionately coined “The Class of Covid-19”. In the weeks to come, some of us will lose loved ones, others will merely lose motivation.

To go this long without definite plans for our Leaving Cert has been hard, and following the announcement of the postponement of the exams, we are now a class that is not only divided, physically, from each other but also divided by opinion. Some are desperately disappointed by the news of the postponement, some are simply relieved.

Missing our chance

The days of our exams are days we’ve long anticipated. The days where the endless nights of study, hours of revision and moments of stress become worth it. On these days, we are given the chance to have something to show for the last two years of our lives. We are also given the opportunity to prove our own ability to ourselves. Without this opportunity, I fear our capabilities may have gone unnoticed.

The postponement of the exams poses a problem. For many, going to school every day acts as a form of respite from home, but others find their comforts elsewhere. Had the Leaving Certificate been scheduled to go ahead in June, not only would we have gone in at an educational disadvantage – having been thrown in at the deep end as schools came to a close – but also at a health risk, given the sheer level of upheaval we’d just endured.

As we discussed alternatives, many students seemed to be in favour of predictive grading but, realistically, predicted grades would essentially be a reflection of our own teachers’ opinions as to how far our capabilities stretch. There is a reason we are but a number to the correctors of the traditional exams: to avoid bias. These correctors will never have to look us in the eye after they’ve failed our maths paper, or marked our English papers subjectively. These correctors do not know our stories, and although slightly clinical, this system is fair. Everyone gets a fair shot, so most of my peers still favour this model. It won’t be easy, but it’s the least bad option we have.

Shifting priorities

Now, as it stands, we will miss our summer, and our sixth year days will linger on; at home, but we must make our own personal contribution to slowing the curve of the virus. May to August 2020 will redefine what we know as ‘summer’. Not just for sixth years, but for the world.

It also now looks unlikely that components of summer that we’ve always known, such as holidays and festivals will be out of the question. We will have to let go of the idea of the summer many of us, especially students, have long anticipated. We are left unsure of the fates of our graduations, debs, sixth year holidays etc. But, we are also left unsure as to the welfare and fate of many people we hold close to our hearts. Events can be postponed, life cannot.

As our world comes to a standstill, understandably, the expectation placed on students by the relevant government bodies to carry on as normal amidst this crisis has caused an uproar, as the idea of carrying on does not seem realistic in today’s climate. This is not what we have known ‘normal’ to be, it is an entirely new ‘normal’. The Leaving Cert has consumed our lives for the last two years, and our situation is not ideal. Neither, however, is being at risk from a virus that knows no age, race, gender or situation. 

All out ‘lockdown’ has become the necessary move for many countries, as we try to get a handle on the coronavirus. It’s brought so many rapid changes and there are days we unite and come together over video calls, but there are also days when it feels the walls are closing in on us. Undoubtedly, this type of lifestyle is alien to us; as humans, we need the company and affection of others to help us through hard times, yet here we are, in the hardest of times; alone, together.

I believe that if we keep our heads through this, our grandparents will thank us. Our immunosuppressed friends will thank us. We must try to see the light at the end of this bleak tunnel we are travelling through.

It is a sobering thought that, although we are all struggling every day, and the idea of having to sit an exam during a pandemic seems like a kick in the teeth, we have to realise that this is not about us. Yes, we expected the right to be selfish and self-serving during our Leaving Cert year, but pandemics don’t often check the curricular calendar before showing up and claiming the lives of the people we love, and there comes a time where it becomes clear, that certain things become more important than others and our collective safety must be seen as just that.

Salad days no more

Already, we have been stripped of the sentimental last few days of school, none of us knowing the goodbyes we said on the 12 March could potentially be our last, and what the proposed weeks before our exams would hold. 

Not only did we lose what could have been our final moments with people we have seen every day for the past six years but we also lost the power to shape our own future. That is a daunting thought and one I’m not prepared to entertain, for now. I should be in school. We should all be in school. We should be soaking up every last moment amidst those four walls. But we can’t.

In a time dominated by worry and uncertainty, we are reminded of the brevity and fragility of life. By sitting our Leaving Certificate this summer, we are offered the chance to control a certain element of our future in a world where a stable tomorrow is not promised. Now, more than ever, some things really are that important. 

Poppy Kane is a sixth year student at Rockwell College in County Tipperary and lives with her family in Clonmel.

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