Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Rose Conway-Walsh TD, has labelled the department’s response to rising Covid numbers as ‘completely inadequate’.
After raising the issue in the Dáíl with Minister Harris, Teachta Conway-Walsh said:
“We need to ensure that third-level institutions are prepared and capable of providing alternative assessments for students who do not wish to sit in-person exams, or who are unable to attend due to a requirement to restrict their movements.
“I have been contacted by numerous students with legitimate concerns about the idea of mass indoor exams. The Minister’s response to date on this issue has been completely inadequate.
“It is unfair and unjustifiable for students not to be given an option. The living situation, health status and many other factors vary from student to student – as well as members of staff.
“There must be scope within examinations for alternative arrangement for students who, for whatever reason, do not feel comfortable attending mass indoor exams even if they are scheduled to go ahead.
“Furthermore, students who are close contacts may be required to restrict their movements for 5 days. In such cases students cannot simply be required to repeat exams. This will only result in punishing students who follow public health guidance and may even lead some to not to adhere public health advice.
“The Minister said that alternative arrangements will be made for students with Covid, who are close contacts or have underlying conditions. But in the next breath, he made clear that a key part of this will be students being forced to defer exams.
“It is disingenuous to refer to differing exams as some type of special Covid arrangement when this is always on option.
“There is no real reason why most assessments/exams cannot be done online to enable students to comply with public health guidance, and ensure they can have a family Christmas.
“We have seen a consistent failure to put contingency plans in place for very unwelcome but foreseeable deteriorations in the Covid situation. The department and the wider government have been reactive rather than proactive. But now the Minister and his department need to react quickly to this demand from many students and staff members.”