By Brian Mooney
It is a very strange world that students now find themselves living in, since online schooling recommenced on Monday last.
For those of primary school age, there is still the possibility that they will be back in their school with their teacher before the official end of the school year in late June.
In the meantime, they are following a schedule of work set out by their teacher, supported by RTE’s morning inspirational TV classes, which have proven to be a huge hit with stressed parents, who often feel unsure if their efforts to support their children’s education is effective.
All parents need to accept that they can only do their best in very trying circumstances, and that their children’s teachers will use their professional skills to bring all their students up to speed when classes eventually restart in the autumn.
The same message applies to children attending second level schools in all year groups other than sixth (final ) year. None of these children will be back in class until September at the earliest, and keeping a schedule of education on track until the end of May, when formal support from their teachers will end, is the best we can achieve in the present circumstances.
If we are still required to maintain social distancing for our children into the summer months, then parents are going to have to sit down with them in June and agree a daily structured programme of activities which will involve new learning through reading, writing, artistic or musical expression, etc.
The thought of spending three more months at home with your children without recourse to summer camps, the month in the Gaeltacht, part time work for those 16 or over, etc, fills many parents with dread. The key to maintaining sanity in our homes is dialogue and discussion, with a clear agreement of what we all agree to undertake to fill our summer days.
For sixth years the pathway ahead is now clear. If the Leaving Cert can be delivered in its full manifestation of written papers and project work across all subjects, it will be at the last possible moment, during the month of August. Nobody now knows, nor can know, if this will be possible, as all decisions will be based on the best medical advice in June.
Again, subject to medical advice, tuition will be provided for two weeks in July, immediately prior to the exams.
If, when we get to June, it becomes clear that staging the full Leaving Cert in all its elements is not possible, then the various arms of Ireland's education system will have to devise a method to enable this year’s sixth years to move on to further or higher education, apprenticeships, employment, or whatever else they aspire to.
This may create real headaches for ministers, public servants, educators at all levels of our system, but it is a problem that will be resolved, because it must be. This year’s final year students must be facilitated in moving on, and they will be.
So, my advice to them and their parents is to forget about all the speculation about the what ifs, and leave it to the professionals to figure out, when they are in possession of all the relevant facts and advice from Dr Holohan.
Take a break
All that students can do now is work with their teachers online, or by phone if broadband difficulties make online work impossible, for the next six weeks until Friday May 29, when full time tuition will cease.
You are then advised to take a total break from examination preparations for two weeks to recharge your much-depleted batteries.
Your teachers have been asked to stay available to you in the second half of June and into July, to support you prior to the planned return to school in the weeks running up to the planned written papers in August.
They will not be providing online classes as they will be doing between now and the end of May, but they will be there to provide answers to your individual worries and concerns and to support your learning during this time.
How can you use the next six weeks to boost your chances of doing well in your Leaving Certificate?
Get up at the same time as you normally do, so that you get maximum benefit from each day. If you stay on in bed in the mornings, you will quickly find yourself sleeping half the day and staying up half the night which will do your examination preparations no good whatsoever.
Never attempt a past examination question without marking your performance against the marking scheme answer available on the State Examination Commission website www.examinations.ie
Don't talk to your classmates about what study you are going to do over the next six weeks, and don't listen to other people about what they are doing. Lots of your friends don't tell the truth about what they are doing or not doing.
To ensure that you get the maximum benefit of the weeks remaining, you should now draw up a day by day study plan of action, to cover every day of the next six weeks, that is focused on specific examination questions, across the full range of papers, that you are studying.
In this plan, allow for good breaks for meals, rest, exercise, and family life. You want to be in peak physical and psychological condition, when you eventually must sit down in front of your written papers.
Reading a book isn't studying – it's reading a book. Set a target: "I will revise this topic for 45 minutes." Take notes as you go. Put away the books. Do an exam question. Now that's study.
Get familiar with the layout of each exam paper. Some papers are tricky and complicated instructions could throw you on the day.
Don't prioritise any one subject. All subjects should get equal time.
Print chief examiners' reports for your subjects, which are available on the SEC website. These reports give sample answers which you can use as a guide for answering style.
Divide up work with a few school friends. Have a Zoom meeting. Teach each other what you learned. Then write out brief notes from each other’s work.
Don't try and guess what is going to come up on any paper. Every year students emerge devastated because they listened to rumors about what was coming up. The truth is anything can come up.
Understand what you are studying, Rephrase in your own words where possible. Students who do well in exams don't just list facts. They demonstrate real understanding of the answer.
Doing well in examinations is 50 per cent technique alongside 50 per cent knowledge of your subject matter. You have absorbed many times more information, over the past two years, than you could ever present in your Leaving Certificate. Two students with the same amount of information on a topic may get radically different grades, depending on how they both present the information to the correcting teacher.
Learn over the coming weeks to present the information you currently have, in the most correctable friendly manner, so that you will get the best grade you can achieve in the examinations in August. Now is the time for writing clear concise notes in tidy folders.