Mixed Messages? (Part One)

Tomorrow, the Irish state exams – the Junior Certificate (JC) and Leaving Certificate (LC) – will begin.  For much of the month of June, those aged 14-15 and 17-18 will be chewing their pencils and worrying about how these tests will affect the rest of their lives.


Today, the media was all afire with older people (by that, I mean people in their 30s and older – we’re ancient as far as those teenagers are concerned) being very serious as they went on about how these exams aren’t the be all and end all.

“The results of your Leaving Cert won’t define you,” one Elder Lemon commented.


Psychologists, therapists, teachers and those in many different professions felt it necessary to state categorically that teenagers are more than the sum of their points. Several parents weighed in as well – some more maudlin than others.


Now, before you think I disagree with these people, let me quickly disabuse you of that notion. I agree. The Junior and Leaving Certificates don’t define who a person is. The results of the Leaving Certificate do, however, determine if a person can continue to college or university. The points achieved in the LC also determine whether or not one gets to study one’s first choice. These exams do have an immediate impact on the lives of the young people sitting them and there’s no getting away from that, though. Even if it’s only the few weeks of mortification after the results come out and you have to admit that you failed everything.


My difficulty – my irritation – with this wave of ‘the exams don’t really matter’, is that, for many of these teens, they have spent the past few years hearing the exact opposite. They have been told that unless they ace their exams they will amount to nothing. Oh! Those may not be the exact words, but that is the message. Believe me, these kids don’t invent the pressure out of thin air!


Of course, I’m not saying that the people who are giving advice today are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, just that…..well, it’s a bit late to be giving that message now. Can we try and be consistent and give the same message to our young people throughout their academic career. Perhaps a modicum of moderation. How about we decide that all we – and by “we” I mean teachers, parents and media professionals  – tell our teens is:


“You’re fabulous. These exams are unfair and out-dated, but at the moment, they’re all we have. Sorry about that. Please do yourself justice by trying your best; but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get the results you wanted/needed for the course you wanted/needed. You’re still fabulous.”