Written by Chloe O’Keeffe
The year 2020 has been a crazy one, as an immediate repercussion of Covid-19. Everything and everyone has been affected by the global pandemic, and the world is ever-changing on a daily basis in a bid to try and live alongside this aggressive virus. The education sector is no different and has faced turbulent times across Europe and the World.
Schools and Universities across Ireland and the United Kingdom were closed down at the end of March. The Irish government decided against reopening until after the Summer holidays, and a phased reopening was planned for the schools of England from June 1 in a bid to make it the last few weeks of the term. School attendance wasn’t 100% when schools reopened in June, with parents being given the option of sending their children back to school. Latest government figures show that approximately a third of all year 6 students attended school on June 18. Although the fines for not sending children to school were eliminated over the height of the pandemic, parents in England who fail to send their kids back to school when the new term commences will face fines.
Nevertheless, students all over the world have all been affected in some shape or form, from not getting their final weeks in Primary, Secondary School or even University life, to the cancellation of state exams across the country. The cancellation of the Irish Junior Certificate was a quick and easy decision for the Department of Education in Ireland, but the idea of cancelling the Leaving Certificate and operating on a ‘predicted grading’ system wasn’t a choice taken lightly. The same goes for that of the A-Level examinations in the UK. All of a sudden, the futures of the students taking these examinations with certain aims as to what they wanted to get in these exams; and what they would need for the University courses they wanted, was out of their control.
A-Level results came out last week, Thursday August 13, and Leaving Certificate results will be out Monday, 7 September. There are always a lot of emotions surrounding results days, and Thursday was no different with the predictive grading, with nearly half of all the exams being downgraded by the exam regulator’s algorithm. In an article released by the Guardian on the day they showed that 39.1% of the 700,000 teacher assessments in England were lowered by at least one grade (some assessments by more than one grade) compared to the small 2.2% of exams that were upgraded. Many students took to facebook and twitter to express their anger and sadness. This puts a lot of fear into Irish students who may go through the same ridiculous hardships next month.
Universities will begin opening in Ireland on a phased basis from as early as September 14 all the way to October 5 and will operate by merging virtual university, attended via your laptop from home, and attending lectures on campus one week a month. It is penned that UK Universities will fully reopen but will implement certain plans that will revert from students mixing with people not in their courses, with a one-way system brought into place on campus for students and staff alike.
University and College life are fun, new beginnings; essentially the next chapter of one’s life. It may be the first time someone has lived away from home; the first time they’ve had to do their own grocery shopping, their own meals. The first time they’ve to put themselves out there and make friends. Moving the University setting to completely online learning would be shattering to the new chapters of incoming first years. One can only begin to appreciate that the idea of a Freshers Week may be a lost cause this semester, at least. A virtual university, even partially, will be difficult for students in terms of making friends. The idea of ‘Big Brother, Big Sister’ programmes where incoming first years have the opportunity to be partnered up with an older year is probably a lost cause due to Universities trying to avoid mixing courses and years.
Things will be hard, that’s definitely granted, but to any incoming first years, returning students etc. do not let this phase you, or deter you from following your dreams. University life will be different for the foreseeable but let this be even more of a motivation to make it all count. There will still be orientation or Freshers weeks for incoming students; get to know your orientation or tutor group, swap numbers and reach out. Sometimes we can get stuck in the waiting game; you meet someone you think you’d be great pals with, swap snapchat names or numbers, and both wait for the other to message first. We’ve all been guilty for doing this one time or another, right? Well, with limited weeks on campus, don’t fall into this. Another super important thing to remember is to say yes to opportunities. In my first year I lived in digs and the couple I lived with always said to never say no to any opportunities ever.
If you are feeling anxious about beginning University, or returning due to Covid19, reach out to the University you will be attending. Many Universities have departments specifically for helping first years settle in, The University of Limerick First7Weeks initiative is one such example. The First7Weeks is a fantastic initiative set up in 2017 that runs every Autumn semester for the first seven weeks of the academic semester. The main aim of the First7Weeks initiative is to support incoming students over the first weeks of the college experience, they do this by hosting workshops and events across the first half of the semester which will in turn help students with things such as finding their way across the campus, time management and study skills. This year, the First7Weeks will be operating virtually online. There are plenty of initiatives such as the First7Weeks or similar in other colleges, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. I even met a friend through the First7Weeks twitter page!