Comment & Analysis
Mar 25, 2020

Dear Leaving Cert Commentariat: We’re in a Pandemic. It’s Not About You

Compelled to comment on the leaving certificate, despite sitting the exams years ago? You’re betraying a lot about yourself, writes Faye Curran.

Faye CurranDeputy Opinion Editor

It’s a bit hard to not feel like the world is coming to an end. Whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic, the budding economic crash or just the general woe permeating the country, it seems that as of late, there is little to be celebrated.

However, despite how much reality right now might feel like in a never-ending episode of Black Mirror, there are those amongst us that are choosing to focus on the real issues at hand here. Pay little heed to a killer virus and mass disparity, dear reader: it is the leaving certificate we should all be discussing.

On Twitter and on the radio, many are up in arms about the various contingencies, permutations and decisions that have come about in the last week. Mainly, the ire has come from those who – despite having achieved their points five years ago – think the decision to give current students 100 per cent in their oral exams isn’t just abhorrent: it’s the greatest injustice of this century.


Listen – we all remember how terrible the leaving certificate year can be. From hours spent rote-learning essays written by someone’s second cousin, to sporadic acne breakouts, there are few things in life that remain with you so much. Whether or not you even agree with the system, few would deny it can be a cruel mistress to many students even in normal times.

By giving each student the same grade, you are rewarding the hard work of many, while giving all the opportunity to focus on written exams

But these are not normal times. Today we learned that leaving certificate students might have to sit their exams in the summer, and start college as late as November – a bruising blow to an already beleaguered cohort.

And this is the reason why I agree so wholly with the decision to award full marks to all students for oral and practical exams. In a time of such great confusion and disarray, a gift of 100 per cent to students is a stress-reliever to the highest degree. By giving each student the same grade, you are rewarding the hard work of many, while giving all the opportunity to focus on written exams.

I understand the frustration for those who feel their work over the past two years has been diminished to nothing and that they have been stripped of the opportunity to prove themselves to examiners. As a current language student, oral examinations were something I knew I was going to succeed in during my leaving certificate, and I would have been incredibly disheartened to not have had the chance to achieve a good grade in the topic.

But most of the debate – which borders on feverish in parts – about the leaving certificate is coming not from students themselves but from the leaving certificate’s newly appointed Twitter commentariat, consisting mostly of people for whom the exams are only a memory. For these people, the notion of “wasters” achieving the same grade as those who would otherwise have come out well – clever or hard-working students, or those able to pay for grinds – is a horror. But not as much of a horror of these students outdoing our 20-something-year-old tweeters.

The ire has come from those who – despite having achieved their points five years ago – think giving current students 100 per cent in their oral exams is abhorrent

The leaving certificate isn’t without its positive attributes, but it is not the great equaliser that many like to think it is. The fact of the matter is, students who can afford extra help will inevitably do better in their exams than those who are struggling to be heard in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms.

There is the point to be made that oral and practical examinations, unlike other forms of examination, are probably one of the easier exams to facilitate online. With services like Skype and FaceTime, there was a possibility for these exams to have been carried out during the national quarantine. But when factors like how easily many students could cheat with notes and prompts during the exam, alongside the ever-pressing issue of a lack of strong WiFi connections in rural areas, it is not as feasible as it appears.

I have great sympathy for this year’s leaving certificate students. Some may see the decision of the State Exams Commission as an unfair one, but frankly, there is little that is fair about a pandemic.

Those who were going to do well are still going to do well. Although I sympathise greatly with the students, there are greater issues at play here. You will always end up where you are supposed to be, oral examinations or no oral examinations.

And to those whose leaving certificate results could be considered an antique at this stage, but still feel the need to comment on how unfair it is that an 18-year-old might do better in their exam than you did decades ago – we are in the middle of a pandemic. Grow up.

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