OPINION: Will Leaving Cert results be influenced by who has the best broadband?

A view of life in Donegal through the coronavirus crisis by journalist Siobhán McNamara

OPINION:  Will Leaving Cert results be influenced by who has the best  and worst broadband?

Broadband quality a major factor in tuition for Leaving Cert 2020 students in Donegal

Despite the government’s insistence that Leaving Cert 2020 will begin on July 29, there is still an air of disbelief among students and the wider population.

I have yet to hear anyone outside of the government parties say, ‘I think it is a good idea.’

There are however many reasons being put forward as to why it is not the right way to go. These include lack of classroom teaching over the last two months as well as a worrying strain on the mental health of our young people.

And as someone living in an area with terrible internet access, I am acutely aware of the difference broadband speed makes to engaging with anything online.

A quick glance at the National Broadband Plan rollout map shows that many areas of Donegal are not going to have workable broadband speeds anytime soon. And like myself, many are in the amber zone which we are told means: ‘Your premises is in an area that is not considered commercial by operators. This area will be covered under the State Intervention of the National Broadband Plan.’ In other words, not now but maybe someday.

I have worked my way through every mobile broadband company to finally find a service with reasonable coverage. But even that is affected by the weather. It doesn’t like rain, or clouds, or wind. When it becomes frustratingly slow, I at least have the option of going into the office. 

But can you imagine being a Leaving Cert student and unable to connect to the internet? Or seeing your connection continually drop while others in your class move on with the lesson without you? Or maybe you have no internet access at all. Perhaps your family cannot afford the added cost or are struggling to meet bills.

Imagine how left behind and alone you would feel, having worked hard your entire time at school. Imagine the path you had envisaged of a dream university course and chosen career crumbling as you stare at a laptop screen that is frozen and refuses to open Google Classroom or Zoom or whatever teaching applications your school uses; knowing that other people have been engaging with tuition and support and have access to teachers who can answer their questions.

I know our schools and teachers are doing their best. This is no reflection on their efforts to reach every student. But this affects a lot of young people in Donegal. It is like having a car but no petrol, and all you can do is watch others speed past you and out of sight.

It seems grossly unfair that something like broadband speed that is so far beyond our control could influence Leaving Cert results, college places and indeed, the rest of your life. 

Surely there must be a better way.

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