Gemma Good.

Time to forget the memory game

In her latest column, Gemma looks at the traditional Leaving Cert and how it needs a radical overhaul - Covid or post Covid...

Problematic before the pandemic ever began, students throughout the country have made calls for a changed Leaving Certificate. Last week, a survey conducted by the Irish Second Level Students Union found that over two thirds of students wanted a hybrid model for their Leaving Cert exams this year. This gives students the option of sitting their exams and/or receiving accredited grades. This model was available last year, when students could pick the higher result of the two options for each exam subject. Despite student protests taking place at schools last Wednesday morning, teacher unions and government ministers seem adamant that exams should go ahead as normal this year.

Although no formal decision has yet been made, the Leaving Certificate 2022 has already been amended to allow for high absenteeism and home-schooling due to COVID-19. These changes include more choice in exam papers and a second set of exams taking place for students who were unable to sit the initial exams.

During the pandemic student voices have gotten louder at the unfairness of the system. But maybe the 68% of students who voted in favour of the hybrid model don’t actually want it. They want anything but the norm and, at the moment, this seems to be the only other option.

Calls for a change to the Leaving Certificate examinations were made long before we ever heard tell of COVID-19. The unfairness of the system is evident. The pressure the exams put on students is unnecessary in normal circumstances, pitting them against their peers for top marks to gain university places. In my opinion, the exams are a memory game. Your understanding of a particular subject doesn’t really matter, so long as you can retain information and translate it onto a page within two hours or so without a hitch, you’ve won. Retention of information is the goal, rather than learning.

It’s probably important to point out that I never actually sat my Leaving Cert. I did my mini-mocks, my mock exams and orals, but I never had the opportunity to do the exams. Even without the stress of COVID-19, I put myself under severe pressure to do well. The exams nearly become an estimation of your worth, as if getting high points and going to college is all that matters.

After a long summer of debating, the government finally decided to give students predicted grades. As somebody who liked school, I was relieved that a decision had finally been made but disappointed that I never got to sit my exams.

I know there are students who have worked hard be it at home or in school. These students want to do their exams and deserve to do well. However I know there are also students who couldn’t care less about school and are probably delighted with the time off. These same students are more than likely clinging to the hope that they will be able to receive accredited grades so they have it on paper that they completed their Leaving Certificate. At the same time, this cohort of young people have probably spent their ‘home-school’ time out on the farm, or in the shed making spectacular wooden crafts, maybe in the kitchen baking cakes, or schooling horses, or perhaps out on the football field. Sure you have woodwork, metal work, home economics and all the rest in school, but this is only one subject.

For high points, you need to do well in most subjects. In school, a good student who did what their teachers asked, studied, probably got grinds and had the ability to handle exam pressure were the high achievers. Are you a so-called ‘bad’ student if you didn’t get high points? Some students are naturally gifted in areas outside the classroom and the Leaving Cert needs to accommodate and recognise these people. It isn’t fair that their creativity should be stifled, forcing these exceptional young people to regurgitate pages upon pages of information that they couldn’t care less about.

Thankfully today options other than university after school are promoted. Apprenticeships, gap years, earn while you learn schemes etc are more common than previously. When you are drowning in textbooks and projects, it’s very reassuring to know that, even if things don’t work out, there are other options to fall back on.

Honestly, I think the whole Leaving Certificate needs to be demolished. It’s dated and it continues to take place at the expense of students’ mental health. Thankfully I’m not in the position to come up with alternative options because I will admit, I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all kind of issue. I think now is the time to open up a portal for young people to submit their solutions. As the ones sitting the exams, wouldn’t they be most qualified to come up with answers?

Students are using the pandemic to voice their contempt at the Leaving Cert examination system. Those in power could learn a lot from the young people in this country and use this opportunity as a push to give students what they deserve; a fair chance to showcase their talents.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a second year journalism student in University of Limerick.


A senseless act