Thursday, 14 January 2021
Covid-19 (Higher Education): Statements
Tens of thousands of young people are at home right now and looking to go to further education in September. They are anxious as to how places will be allocated and anxious as to whether they will be able to get a place. Last year, after a massive campaign by school students, the Government promised extra places to remove some of the pressure on students applying through the CAO system. This year we face a similar crisis, but now the Government has plenty of advance notice and time to invest in a serious expansion of third level to let all sixth year students know there are places for them and to help to remove the stress they are going through. It is absolutely clear the leaving certificate cannot go ahead as normal this year. It would be not only unsafe but also deeply unfair on the students. It would pile massive stresses onto people already struggling to cope. This is a year group that has faced massive disruption to both their two years of leaving certificate study: studying from home, coping with isolation, the stresses of the pandemic and, in some cases, students themselves getting the virus and missing classes. Yet the Government seems to want to put the institution of the leaving certificate before the mental and physical health of the students. Last year the compulsory leaving certificate was cancelled and students were given a choice between predicted grades and sitting exams. This year students are demanding exactly the same. Students are getting organised and speaking out on social media, and that self-organisation of students is how they will win.
The Government needs to take action now and accept that the leaving certificate cannot go ahead as normal. The students are calling for a choice between predicted grades and exams which are updated to take account of the circumstances. It is time the Government listened to the students. It is their future, it is their choice. Even before this pandemic, the leaving certificate was a horrendous way to treat young people, creating huge mental health pressures and incorporating a deep inequality. It follows an outdated model of rote learning rather than encouraging critical, independent thought. It should be abolished and instead we should invest in third level education in order that everybody who wants to access it can do so. The Minister's Department has a crucial role to play in addressing this. The more college education is expanded, the closer we are to getting rid of the rat race of too many applicants chasing after too few places and the massive stresses that results in. Will the Minister invest now to ensure that come September there are enough places available for students?