Students complain about Leaving Cert Russian

Just an English summary of a story we’ve covered in Nasha Gazeta.

A number of students who took Russian Leaving Cert exam this year (as well as their parents and teachers) complained to the State Examinations Commission (SEC) about the fact that they had to sit three exams on the same day. This happened because SEC scheduled Russian on the same day as Irish and Biology. Irish is compulsory for most, so those unfortunate students who picked Russian AND Biology had to sit three exams on the same day – June 12, which ironically is also the Russian national day, like July 4 in US.

This meant that the students were kept at school until very late in the evening in conditions which resembled solitary confinement. They were under constant observation by exam supervisors who accompanied them even on their toilet breaks. The students were also forbidden from talking to anyone, even their parents who brought them lunch, or using mobile phones or any other electronic devices. All this was done to “preserve the integrity of the exam” which everybody else took in the morning and they had to sit in the evening.

Needless to say, the students were stressed and tired. This is what one of them told Nasha Gazeta:

“I felt very tired and not very prepared for my exams because i had to cram 3 subjects into my head the night before. I was very annoyed that the examiners commission put 3 exams in one day, especially Irish and Biology, which requires A LOT of learning. I didn’t perform half as well as i could have because of the extra Russian exam on that day”.

But that is not all: the next day most of these students had to sit French, with virtually no time to prepare or rest before the exam. One of the students said she got home at about 10 pm, went to bed, but couldn’t sleep because she was so agitated. She only fell asleep at about 1 am, but was up at 4 to get at least some preparation for the French exam…

I contacted SEC for comment and got a long e-mail about the inevitability of some exams overlapping as there were only two weeks available for Leaving Cert exams and some 50 subjects to fit into those two weeks.  The Commission admitted that each year “less than 100” out of over 50 000 students had to do three exams on the same day. It said it did everything in its powers to minimize the chances of this happening.

Later I learned that EXACTLY THE SAME e-mail was sent out to students and their parents who complained to SEC about the situation. Meanwhile, a letter written by one of these students was also published by the Irish Times:

Clearly students like Izabelle were at a disadvantage compared to most others who sat two exams, went home, had time to chat with their friends, prepare for the French exam and get some rest. Karen Ruddock, national coordinator for PPLI, a state agency promoting foreign languages in schools, was of the same opinion. She said what happened could amount to “discrimination” of students who chose foreign languages as their exam subjects and was also in contradiction to state policy.

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen next year.


New issue of SEDA News

The new – June – issue of SEDA News is out. I had fun putting it together, especially the front page and masthead 🙂 There’s a great story there about a couple of students who travelled to Norway redefining the term “budget travel”. In order to save money they avoided hotels and slept in airports and other such public places. They also took food with them from home for the five days of their journey!

Inside you’ll also find a small interview with Eric Byrne TD, a story about Venezuelan students and their experiences in Ireland, some info about Ireland’s Bangladeshi community, a Dubliner talking about the perfect pint of Guinness and lots more!

And here’s the thing in full (PDF):




Feature about children adopted by Irish couples from abroad

To find out how this article came about read the previous post

Opportunities for adopting a child abroad have become very limited in the past year and prospective parents are demanding change.

By Viktor Posudnevsky

Names of adoptive parents and their children have been changed.

Ivan from Russia was 18 months old when he came to Ireland. His mother could not provide for him and soon after being born he ended up in a baby home in Kirov. There he met Maggie, an Irish woman who adopted the boy and took him to his new home.

“When he arrived he had many problems as a result of institutionalization”, Maggie says. “He didn’t want to be hugged or kissed, noticed everything that changed in the room, was mindful of who was picking him up. It’s only now that he’s starting to latch on to us. All adopted children are like that at first. He was well fed and cared for in the baby home, but he wasn’t used to tenderness. I think if he had stayed longer the problems would have been worse”.

The longer they stay in institutions the less chance children have of ever being adopted at home or abroad. In Russia alone some 120 000 children are placed in orphanages every year. The sad reality is that most of them will grow up without experiencing family life.

There are hundreds of Irish parents who, like Maggie, would be happy to give a warm loving welcome to at least a fraction of these children. But the opportunities of bringing a child home are currently very limited for prospective Irish parents.

The reason is that in November 2010 Ireland passed the Adoption Act ratifying the Hague convention on inter country adoptions. While the convention aims to establish safeguards for the adopted and prevent the sale and trafficking of children its implementation has also meant that Irish parents can only adopt from other Hague compliant countries or states which have signed a bilateral agreement with Ireland. Russia, Vietnam and Ethiopia – the largest “sending countries” of adopted children to Ireland in the last three years – have not enacted the Hague convention and are therefore closed to Irish adopters.

The convention is enforced by over 80 states which are open; however some of these countries have very long waiting lists, while others have not established relations with the Adoption Authority of Ireland, body that oversees inter country adoptions. “We know very little about some of the Hague countries or we’ve had no contact with them previously,” explains Conor Kerlin, spokesman for the Adoption Authority. “Adoptions in some countries may not be compatible with the Irish law. We may also have concerns about certain issues notwithstanding the fact that the country is a member of Hague. When that is the case we must be satisfied that the country meets particular standards”.

Prospective parents are not happy about the situation and many are feeling angry, like little Ivan’s mother Maggie. “When parents pick a country they want to adopt from they can only pick a Hague compliant one,” she says. “It’s frustrating. I want to go to Russia, but I’m being forced to pick Kazakhstan. So the official statistics don’t even show the level of interest in Russia. And I think a lot of parents would prefer to go to Russia because their first and second children are from there”.

More than 1500 Russian children have been adopted by Irish couples since 1991. The Russian Irish Adoption Group, an association of some 300 families, claims many of the parents would love to go back and adopt again. “Primarily it is for their children – they want them to have siblings from the same country,” says the group’s committee member Marie McGee. “Secondly, these families have integrated the Russian culture into their home. Are they now meant to adopt from another country and integrate a third culture?”

But even if they were to pick another country the parents would face a long wait and much uncertainty. Opportunities to adopt for those who were granted approvals after the Hague convention came into force are “very very limited”, says Trish Connolly, administrator at the International Adoption Association of Ireland. “The parents are feeling a mix of anger and desolation. They have been waiting for so long to be assessed and now they have so very little options available”. The reason is that some Hague countries, like the Philippines and China, have waiting lists of up to five years, while others are not yet working with the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

Before parents can apply to be matched with a child they have to complete a lengthy and rigorous process of assessment for eligibility to adopt. The process, which is conducted by the HSE, can take up to seven years. The long waiting lists in some Hague countries mean another three to five years could elapse before a prospective parent is matched with a child. This is of grave concern to Gráinne, a prospective adopter who waited for six and a half years to be approved by HSE. “We’re not getting any younger and want to adopt as soon as possible,” she says. “A lot of people are starting the process when they’re rather old. If you go to the countries with long waiting lists you’ll probably be nearly 50 by the time you adopt. It’s so disheartening because there are so many children who need families”.

Another worry is that declarations of eligibility to adopt are valid for a period of two years under Irish law. This may not be enough for parents going to some Hague countries with long waiting lists.

Laura, another prospective parent, says she recently heard of 20 children become available for inter country adoption in Russia. Yet no Irish parent can have them because of the limitations imposed by Hague. “It is so sad that so many children are being denied families because of politics and red tape,” Laura says. “And there are so many people who want to be parents, but can’t because the process is too long and they get too old. I’d love to take two children home!”

The Russian Irish Adoption Group has been pushing for a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Russia. Russia has already signed such agreements with Italy, USA and France. In March last year a Russian delegation met with representatives of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in Dublin to discuss the bilateral. The Russians presented Irish officials a draft agreement based on the one Russia signed with Italy. But there was little reaction from the Irish side, which prompted the Russian children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov to say that Ireland pulled out of the process. “[Ireland] is the only country that refused the agreement,” he was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency last July.

But things are likely to improve in future. Ireland is in “a transition phase” and once the necessary infrastructure is in place adoptions will proceed faster, believes Shane Downer, director of Arc Adoption, the first and, so far, only body accredited to facilitate inter country adoptions for Irish parents in accordance with the Hague convention. “Ireland came into Hague late and we’re building our infrastructure unlike many other countries which have been in Hague for years,” he said. “One of the problems in the past was that we had far too many unregulated adoption agencies which created a demand effect and, as a result, bad practices. Hague introduces the idea of accredited bodies which are subject to tight regulation. And we are still building them”.

In February the Hague convention came into force in Vietnam and adoptions are likely to resume in the coming months. India and Cambodia could also open to Irish adopters in the near future, said Trish Connolly of International Adoption Association of Ireland. Arc Adoption is currently setting up a programme with Bulgaria – the first child is expected to arrive this year. And there are hopes that bilateral agreements will be signed with Russia and Ethiopia.

“I do think that in 12 months’ time we will be in a much more positive place although there is a lot to be done,” said Shane Downer.

Progress depends on the Adoption Authority and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Officials from both of these bodies visited Moscow in December for talks on bilateral agreement regarding adoptions. A Department spokesperson said: “The discussions were positive. Issues of mutual concern in regard to inter country adoption between Russia and Ireland will require further consideration”. Little Ivan’s mother Maggie and hundreds of other prospective Irish parents can only hope that these issues are resolved sooner rather than later.



Livin’ the dream

Reporting is fun and there is a popular saying that journalism is other people paying you so you could satisfy your curiosity. But sometimes it’s hard to get these people (publishers, producers, newspaper editors) to pay up or even notice the work you’ve put in to… well, satisfy your curiosity. This was the case with a lengthy feature about foreign adoptions that I wrote a couple of months back.

The piece was intended for a major Irish broadsheet whose features editor is apparently madly busy all the time and is nearly impossible to talk to. Previously I submitted a piece to the said editor, which was published, and he seemed to like the idea of an article on foreign adoptions, so I set to work. It took me a couple of weeks to finish the piece and I interviewed about 10 people in the process, read dozens of documents as I wasn’t familiar with the topic, in short, put quite a lot of hours of work into researching and writing the piece. But when I sent it to the editor there was no reply.

I waited and sent a couple more e-mails and then called the editor several times. After I finally got through he told me he would read the piece and get back to me. Another couple of weeks passed by and there was no response. I called again and got the same reply: I’m very busy at the moment, but I’ll read the piece and get back to you. No response up to now.  In the meantime several articles about foreign adoptions appeared in the news section of that paper. The articles said pretty much the same things as my feature article – I’m not saying my ideas were “stolen”, but the news articles covered the same developments that were mentioned in my piece, so the piece had effectively become obsolete after these articles…

I’m an editor myself (of a small, local title), people send me stories and comments all the time and I would never leave an author without response (unless they send me some totally random, unrelated stuff…). But of course I have no idea of the kind of workload that features editors of major Irish broadsheets have to deal with, so I’m not going to judge.  The worst part for me was having nothing to say to all of my 9 or 10 interviewees who wanted to know when the piece was going to be published. After all they spent their time talking to me about things that are very important to them (some got quite emotional) and they expected some result.

Well, what can I do? I decided to translate the article into Russian and adapt it for Nasha Gazeta and I also decided to publish it in English on this blog’s next post.

Blogs by Irish (or Ireland based) journalists

True Economics

My favourite – blog by economist and very frequent contributor to Irish media Constantin Gurdgiev. Constantin posts almost every day, often several times a day. Sadly, a lot of the stuff is way above my head, but I’m still an avid follower.

Crime, ink

Great blog by Irish Daily Star crime correspondent Michael O’Toole. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since November 2009…

Philip Boucher-Hayes

Very well-presented blog by the RTE journalist.

Newspaper Man

Blog by Sunday Times reporter Mark Tighe mostly about legal affairs and politics.

The Story

Political blog set up by Gavin Sheridan and Mark Coughlan

Is that shorthand?

Blog by Sunday Times news editor Richard Oakley

Popcorn Politics

Blog of Catherine Halloran, political correspondent with Irish Daily Star

Abigail Rieley

Blog by writer and journalist Abigail Rieley. Very well-presented and contains links to some useful resources for writers and journalists.

Adam Maguire

Blog by technology journalist Adam Maguire.

Tales from the Talbot Towers

Blog by journalist Ken Foxe.

Blathnaid Healy

“Occasional postings on journalism… and sunrises”

Elaine Byrne

Blog by journalist and TCD lecturer in politics Elaine Byrne

A Russian battleship is heading Ireland’s way

Large antisubmarine ship Vice-Admiral Kulakov is expected in Ireland in the coming months. The ship was supposed to dock at Cobh, county Cork, in the beginning of May, but the visit didn’t go ahead. Now the naval vessel is likely to call to our shores at the end of August, according to information from the Russian embassy in Dublin.

In April Vice-Admiral Kulakov set off from Severomorsk, main base of Russia’s Northern Fleet, and headed towards the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somali, where it will form part of a military group protecting merchant ships from pirates. On its way back to Russia the ship will make a number of calls to foreign ports and Cobh is expected to be one of them.

Russian warships have become somewhat frequent visitors to Ireland in the past few years. Last year another Russian large antisubmarine ship (or destroyer) called Admiral Chabanenko visited Dublin. And in 2009 an almost identical destroyer, called Severomorsk, also called in Dublin port.

The ships are open for the public to visit and the naval personnel are always very friendly and are only happy to show visitors around their ship (not all of them speak English though). The weapons on board are fairly impressive as are the officers’ stories (I remember one of them telling me how a helicopter pilot had to take off from the ship’s deck amid a huge storm). The Russian sailors are also very happy to get some time off (the conditions aboard a Russian warship are Spartan) and see a bit of Ireland – a country which is totally new for the vast majority of them.

Doing business in Russia

Dublin-based advertising agency Dialogue Marketing recently won a big contract with the Russian branch of Renault. Dialogue’s CEO Michael Killeen talks about his experience doing business in Russia. (The interview, translated into Russian, appeared in Nasha Gazeta)

Michael Killeen, CEO of Dialogue Marketing

We carried out our first project in Russia back in 1996. Dialogue was involved in bringing the Bolshoi to Dublin to perform the Nutcracker at Christmas. We won the recent contract with Renault Russia through an independent membership group called Inter Direct Network (IDN), which has members in 36 countries, including Russia. The Russian group, Itella Connexions invited us to pitch for the Renault CRM account. We beat off stiff competition from Europe and won the business. They have since asked us to develop a CRM strategy for Renault Russia right across the Russian market and the development of creative across multimedia channels.
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