WITHIN weeks, pupils who completed all their secondary education during recession will sit the Leaving Cert.
Ciara Guinan and Meadhbh Halton of St Patrick’s Comprehensive and Aislinn Keogh and Gearóid McMahon of St Caimin’s Community School are among the tens of thousands who are going through this rite of passage.
Three of the four started secondary school in September of 2008, just weeks before the ruinous bank guarantee, while another had just one year of second level done at that stage.
All four are planning to go on to third level and with finances under strain, they are conscious of the cost of further education. The money Gearóid earned last summer, cutting silage and working for a builder, has been left largely intact and set aside for his education, while Meadhbh says she is thinking about taking a year off to work, before going on to further study.
Gearóid hopes to study engineering at UL and after speaking to people working in the field, expects he’ll emigrate afterwards. “I’d say England is the place to go for engineering, there’s not a lot left in Ireland.”
His schoolmate, Aislinn, wants to do teaching and while she realises employment prospects are very poor at the moment, she is hopeful that things will turn around. “I’d like to do primary teaching in Mary I, which probably isn’t the best for employment but hopefully, it’ll change in the next few years. Apparently there’s a baby boom. I was reading last week in the paper about great increases between 2020 and 2026.”
Meadhbh says she doesn’t fully know what she will do but is interested in a make-up course in Dublin, although taking it on would involve sizeable fees. While Ciara has an interest in journalism, another area that has been squeezed very hard by the recession, she is keeping her options open. “I went for the broadest option, a bachelor of arts in UL. Hopefully, I’ll have decided by my second year in.”
For generations, the Leaving Cert has been a milestone for young people and it has long been associated with huge levels of pressure, something all four are now facing. “People are touchy about things you wouldn’t think they’d be touchy about. It effects everyone. It’s stressful,” according to Ciara.
She says it’s almost hard to believe this massively hyped exam is around the corner. “It’s five years for this one exam, it’s so much pressure. You never think it’s going to happen; you think ‘I have this much time or this much time, it’s a long way off’; then it hits you that there’s a month to go and it piles up.”
The fact the exam will take place soon is just hitting a lot of pupils, according to Meadhbh. “Now there’s only a month to it, I think people are like ‘Oh, it’s actually on in four weeks, let’s start studying’.”
For his part, Gearóid says he studies until about midnight on a regular basis but admits he “kind of left it late to start”.
The CAO points system has its backers and detractors but pupils are worried there could be increases in the points needed for courses this year.
“Last year, bonus points came in for maths and there’s no way of knowing what way the points will go this year. In some courses last year, the points were going up by 50 and 70, which was never heard of. Then other courses were coming down, dropping lower than ever,” according to Aislinn.
All four agree almost all of their peers want to go on to further study, now, very few other options open to them nowadays. “I didn’t hear of anyone not wanting to go to college and if they didn’t, people would be like ‘Wow, you’re not going to college, that’s weird,” says Ciara.
Substance abuse is a huge worry for the parents of teenagers but all four agreed that drugs aren’t a very big problem in their schools. Some said they were aware of young people smoking cannabis but that it isn’t prevalent and there is very little use of harder drugs.
When it came to alcohol, all four agreed that most in their late teens do drink, at least occasionally. They say young people now rarely visit pubs to consume alcohol. “Mostly, it’d be in houses. Pubs are too expensive,” Gearóid said.
Ciara feels there is still a feeling among young people in Shannon that there aren’t many places to congregate. “We were actually talking about it [at school], that there’s nowhere to go. That’s why you can see bush drinking happening because there’s nowhere to go and people get bored.”
Secondary school has very bleak associations for many adults but they feel things are a bit better nowadays. “I think there’s more emphasis put on student life in school now. It’s all based around having a balance between work and being teenagers at the same time,” said Ciara.