Cork Leaving Cert student writes to the Taoiseach asking for a decision to be made about State exams

Cork Leaving Cert student writes to the Taoiseach asking for a decision to be made about State exams
Pictured in September 2019, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with West Cork climate change campaigner Alicia O'Sullivan in New York. Alicia has now written to the Taoiseach asking for a decision to be made on State exams. 

Sixth year student in Skibbereen Community School, Alicia O'Sullivan has written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the  Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, and the State Examinations Commissions (SEC) highlighting the unnecessary and added stress on students not knowing whether or not State exams will take place in June.

In her open letter, 18-year-old Alicia, who has spent many years campaigning on issues such as climate change and mental health, has called for young people to be listened to in the decision-making process regarding the State exams.

"As it is for everyone, a time of worry and uncertainty, it is particularly so for the Leaving Certificate Year of 2020. 

"I, like most, understand the utmost importance of prioritising attention to vital services, but we also must remember that when Covid-19 is no more that we, as young people, have futures, dreams and lives that we must live. 

"I also understand that Covid-19 is unprecedented and unpredictable and nobody knows for definite the situation come June 3, but what I say to this is, we all want to continue riding the waves but sometimes you just have to decide that getting in the boat would be a mistake even if the ocean suddenly calms," Alicia wrote.

She went on to detail the myriad of reasons why it is almost impossible for students to simply carry on studying as normal. Some have parents who are working on the frontline and have to look after younger siblings. Others don't have access to WiFi or laptops to research material and some are struggling to maintain focus, consumed by the combined stress of exams and the worries associated with the current global pandemic.

West Cork teenager Alicia O'Sullivan has written a letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the  Minister for Education and Skills, Joe Mchugh, and the State Examinations Commissions (SEC) highlighting the unnecessary and added stress on students not knowing whether or not State exam will take place in June.
West Cork teenager Alicia O'Sullivan has written a letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the  Minister for Education and Skills, Joe Mchugh, and the State Examinations Commissions (SEC) highlighting the unnecessary and added stress on students not knowing whether or not State exam will take place in June.

Alicia called for a decision to be made to abate some of this anxiety.

"Although there is no perfect solution, to what is a very difficult problem, there must be a solution and prolonging the announcement of this is causing more problems than needed at this time," she said. 

She also pointed out that some students have projects due in May who have missed significant time to work on these as it is work which needs to be done in a school setting. "A two week expansion of deadlines does not fix this problem," she said.

"I would also ask that you could clarify the entire situation regarding the State Examinations as soon as possible and publish a contingency plan for both the academic and mental wellbeing of all 61,053 Leaving Certificate students. Please try and put yourselves in our shoes," Alicia concluded.

Speaking to The Echo, Alicia, who says she would like to study law at university, said the lack of clarity is demotivating students.

"The stress and anxiety I’ve seen amongst my peers and from young people all over the country is scaring me. 

"People are not only enduring the 'normal' stress surrounding the leaving cert but also an added feeling of not knowing is a terrible worry for anyone sitting such important exams. 

"It has demotivated us and has made it impossible to not wonder every day when something will be announced, it’s draining."

The West Cork teenager said she believes the best solution at this stage would be to implement a fair predicted grades model.

"I don’t think there is a perfect solution and although I, like most students who want to go into further education, would like to see the exams going ahead it’s very hard to imagine that happening come June 3. 

"If a short postponement was possible where it wouldn’t disrupt college entrance particularly for those going abroad that would be a great choice but it’s hard to see exams even taking place in July/August. 

"The only way to not disrupt the entire system is to put in place a fair predicted grades model, which is what 49% of a 48% sample of Leaving Cert students opted for in the Irish Secondary Schools Union (ISSU) survey.

"Having said this, right now I think what students really want is clarity so we can plan for whatever we need to do," she said.

Earlier today, Alicia received a response back from the SEC, stating:

"All our decisions are guided by the advice of the public health officials and how that impacts on schools. "Unfortunately, we cannot be any more definitive at this stage."

"Despite all the disruption we want you to keep preparing for the remaining examinations," the statement continued.

The full text of Alicia's letter can be viewed on Twitter: https://twitter.com/A_lee_see_ahh/status/1247932911917174786

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