SPEAKING before the Oireachtas Committee on Education, two representatives of the Cork Life Centre have called for a “complete reform” of the “fundamentally flawed” Leaving Certificate system.
Ryan Sharpe, who is a current student of the northside educational facility, and Amber Sheridan O’Callaghan, who is a past pupil, spoke by Zoom to members of the influential Oireachtas committee.
Mr Sharpe said he was currently studying for the Leaving Certificate and he was finding the experience to be very stressful.
“I’m stressed because the Leaving Cert defines your life, and is the main focus of your life for people under the age of 18,” he said.
He said that when he would talk to adults about how stressful the Leaving Certificate is, they would dismiss it as “moaning”, and say that they all had had to endure it in their day.
“Imagine if you tried to change something that was inherently bad and you were told that you can’t change it because it was bad for other people too.”
Ms Sheridan O’Callaghan said that her experience of the Leaving Certificate had been “a complete nightmare”, and she said that if not for the mental health supports given to her at the Life Centre, she would not have got through.
“I got lucky, but I know the same supports are not there for every student in Ireland.”
She added that a major cause of stress for students is the inflexibility of the Leaving Certificate curriculum, and she said it would be a lot less stressful if students could learn subjects which had useful real-life applications.
Mr Sharpe said a clear distinction needed to be made in schools between counsellors and career guidance counsellors as the two were not the same, and mental health supports needed to be made available to all students.
The committee chair, Co Wexford Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe, replied that he had contested five general elections, and while they were extremely stressful experiences, it was still the Leaving which stuck in his mind as a particular time of great stress in his life.
He agreed that full counselling services should be available to all students.
Deputy Kehoe said he and his committee had visited the Life Centre two weeks ago at the invitation of committee members Páidraig O’Sullivan, Cork North Central Fianna Fáil TD, and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Cork South Central Sinn Féin TD.
He said he and the committee members had been hugely impressed with the “fantastic work” of the centre, and had been particularly struck by the presentations made to them by staff and students.
The Life Centre currently has 55 students.
Fine Gael Senator Aisling Dolan thanked the students for their contributions, and said she hoped Leaving Certificate reform might focus on the need to encourage lifelong learning.