Structured online classes are keeping Junior Cert student Amy Doyle from St Brigid’s Secondary School, focused – but she has no idea whether her practical music exam will be going ahead in the coming weeks. This week she tells the Killarney Advertiser what it’s like home schooling while preparing for her first State exams.

“Almost 11 months on, although we are still working, it is not the same as physically being in a classroom with a teacher and classmates. In a classroom, students are more likely to ask questions and other students often learn from those questions. It is easier to understand the topic and it is easier for the teachers to know if students are following the material being covered. Since last March, we have missed four months of in person school in total. However, I understand that the schools need to be closed, at the moment, to protect the population.

With the Junior Cycle, there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not it will even go ahead. It is extremely hard to maintain the motivation to study for the exams as we don’t have a concrete end goal in our minds as the exams may not even happen. Even if they do go ahead, we won’t have had the experience of sitting the pre-examinations and it will be the first time we sit exams in that environment.
Preparing for class tests can become very tiring as every test we do could be counted towards calculating our predicted grades. This means we have to stay focused and do well in every exam, which brings the stress of the Junior Cycle forward into these months and it could be for nothing if the exams go ahead as normal.

Music is one of the subjects I study, and our music practical is meant to be coming up shortly. We don’t know if we will have to do it live, record it and send it on, or just not do it at all. For many people studying music, their strength may be in performing, and they would benefit from the practical going ahead. For others, music/singing lessons may have been cancelled so they may not be fully prepared. Personally, I just want to know what is going to happen so I can prepare accordingly.

Last summer, I would have gone to the Gaeltacht for a few weeks to improve my oral Irish before taking the exams, but obviously that couldn’t happen. I know that I could have done this online, but the largest benefit of the Gaeltacht is being immersed in the Irish language all day.

Since returning to school in September, things have obviously been different as precautions were taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our school. Class pods were introduced which limited social interactions and now, because of the lockdown, the social side of school has been restricted even more. We do not get to see friends as normal. Also, hobbies and activities outside of school have been unable to resume. For many people, these were a release from the pressure of school and upcoming exams.

Having said all of this, we have been incredibly lucky in St Brigid’s because we have had online classes for every subject as timetabled each day. This has helped to keep our days more structured and has helped to keep our routine as normal as possible as we must be ready to start ‘school’ every morning at 9am.
I’m hopeful things will get back to normal and we will have word on the Junior Cycle soon. As the old Irish saying goes, “Níl tuilemhéad nach dtránn”.