Billy Ryle: Kerry Schools Should Opt Out Of Token Junior Cert Exam

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Guidance Counsellor Billy Ryle says Minister McHugh should abort the doomed Junior Cert substitute exam this year….

The powers that be in the Department of Education and Skills must immediately step up to the plate and take note of the negative impact that the current uncertainty is having on the mental and emotional health of 63,000 fifteen-year-old Junior Cycle students before it has serious consequences.

Minister Joe McHugh cancelled the official Junior Cert exam on Good Friday and announced that he was replacing it with a watered-down substitute exam to be done in schools next September.

In the last few days, a number of schools have opted out of the Minister’s backup exam and have decided to make their own in-house private arrangements for their Junior Cert students.

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It’s highly likely that more schools will follow their example. Second level schools throughout County Kerry would do well to consider distancing themselves from a meaningless and ill-conceived backup arrangement.

Emotionally stressed-out students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for the past six weeks and are unlikely to do so before the school year ends on 29th May.

After weeks of home study, young people are feeling isolated and detached. They are struggling to remain exam focussed and motivated.

They are suffering from cabin fever and an overload of virtual learning. They have little opportunity to retain physical and mental equilibrium through lack of exercise, leisure and sports.

They are totally in the dark about the timing, duration and content of a token exam which will have little credibility or validity.

The young students are already suffering enough anxiety and stress this academic year without meaningless exams hanging over their heads, like the sword of Damocles, during the long hot summer months.

The Lanigan’s Ball scenario being played out in public by the Minister and his advisers is undignified and bordering on farcical. By all accounts, Minister Mc Hugh is due to step in again to the public arena in the next few days with a further announcement.

Nobody will fault the Minister if, ‘after due consideration and wide spread consultation,’ he decides to scrap the substitute Junior Cert exam, which he has pencilled-in for September.

He may suffer a few moments of self-inflicted embarrassment but, in all fairness, his heart was in the right place. Nobody told him he was talking himself into a logistical nightmare.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has already confirmed that it will not certify the proposed September exams, thereby rendering them worthless and a complete waste of valuable time and resources.

Regardless, the staging of these exams will still cause a great deal of distress to thousands of mentally and emotionally drained young people, who won’t be entitled to as much as a parchment of results for inclusion in a Curriculum Vitae.

Any Minister worth his salt will cut his losses by aborting a doomed project before it gets out of control.

An empathetic Minister will allow the young people to enjoy the summer free from exam anxiety so that they can return to school next September refreshed and ready for senior cycle. I wholeheartedly encourage Minister McHugh to do so!

• Billy Ryle is a Career Guidance Counsellor/Educational Commentator

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