Seanad debates

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

State Examinations

2:30 pm

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister, Deputy Foley, for coming to the Seanad to listen to my request that the same compassionate model be afforded to students who will undertake the leaving certificate this year as was given to students in 2021 and 2020. These students have been severely impacted by the Covid pandemic. There is no doubt that the continuous negative strain Covid has had on so many students is too significant to ignore. In the past week and a half, since we came back after Christmas, my office has been inundated with students who tell me about their lives as a result of Covid and how their mental health has been severely impacted by the strain of the past 22 months and, in particular, the unpredictability of the current climate.They have described to me how hard the past 22 months have been and how new restrictions, new cases and being identified as a close contact have increased the burden they all feel. They have missed so much work in class and so many social experiences. Even the peer support they receive from each other has not been available to them because we have been asking them to stay away from each other. They have very much adhered to that and to the request to stay at home. Their social lives have been entirely disrupted, whether they involve school breaks and lunches or activities outside school. They have undoubtedly suffered. While we say that schooldays are the best days of our lives - as an older lady, I can now probably look back with nostalgia - the doom and gloom of the past couple of years have certainly overshadowed our young students' lives.

I acknowledge and appreciate that allowances were made last August to reflect the changes and the challenges faced by the students. I am absolutely sure students acknowledge them also, but we really do not believe they are anywhere near enough. A decision was made to grant last year's students the hybrid model to give them the option of sitting the exams. I absolutely believe they should sit them and hope it will be safe for them to do so. The option of receiving accredited grades came as such a relief to most students last year. It is absolutely the safety valve that we need to provide students with this year. To me, the hybrid model is a really compassionate one. Compassion is what our students absolutely need now.

We will continue to talk about the reform of an outdated education system, involving the sitting a series of rigid and seemingly future-defining exams, because I really do believe there are more lenient models we can put in place, but the immediate focus has to be on the well-being of the young people outside Leinster House today. I say this not just because I have spoken to them, their parents and teachers for the past couple of weeks but because I have a student living in my house. This is the second person in my house who will have done the leaving certificate under Covid. I can genuinely tell the Minister that the man I have at home has gone through a far more stressful experience than his older sister. It is incumbent on us to recognise the unprecedented crisis and the consequences for students every single day, in addition to the stress they are currently experiencing.

I acknowledge that the Minister is having a stakeholders' meeting tomorrow. I welcome that because the decisions arising from it will give the students certainty. I ask her to consider the stress experienced by students and their well-being and allow them to have the stress-release valve of sitting the exams this year while also having accredited grades. Thus, they can commit and focus for the next couple of months knowing that a safety valve exists.


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