Gap Year

January 27, 2017

The SheBrisbane team thought it was worth passing on this warning to parents of school leavers contemplating a gap year.

Unless it is planned, “forget it”, says a South Australian education expert.

Adelaide Advertiser Education Reporter Tim Williams quoted former SA Tertiary Admissions Centre boss Wendy Teasdale-Smith as saying unplanned gap years were being used as an excuse to hit the couch and put off hard decisions about higher education or the need to repeat Year 12.

Ms Teasdale-Smith said the concept of a gap year had morphed from a challenging and life-changing experience, often overseas, to “a euphemism for “I’m going to hang out on the couch with my mates for a year”.

“Originally, it involved young people undertaking a self-sacrificing year of voluntary work in tough, challenging communities. If this is the plan, great,” Ms Teasdale-Smith said.

“Yet in many cases, the gap year has become a socially acceptable way of essentially doing very little.

“It sounds OK at social outings for parents to say to their friends that their teenager is taking a gap year.

“It lets young people off the hook — they can avoid facing the reality that they should have got better (Year 12) results and now they have no real plans.”

Ms Teasdale-Smith, a former high school principal who ran SATAC for five years until last November, said parents should be particularly wary of teens making last-minute gap year proposals in the wake of poor school results.

For some young people, it was the start of a delay of many years in making decisions about study and career paths.

Ms Teasdale-Smith, who now runs a consultancy helping students and parents with post-high school options, said that up to a third of university offers were deferred and a “large proportion” of those were not taken up the following year.

Part-time hospitality or retail jobs were not a good enough reason for a gap year, because Year 12 graduates already had a long summer break and many university and TAFE courses had few contact hours so could easily be combined with paid work.

Social researcher Mark McCrindle said the idea of the gap year to travel or work overseas was the product of Australia’s geographic isolation, beginning in the 1970s and becoming more mainstream in the past decade.

He said Generation Y, who faced long stretches of tertiary study, would benefit from well-planned gap years even more than previous generations, but there was a “dangerous trend” of using them as an excuse for “kicking the can further down the road”.

“As it becomes an accepted part of culture, you will get more people saying ‘I’ll take a gap year’ but they won’t plan it out,” he said.

SA Education Minister Susan Close said it was vital young people obtained post-school qualifications but she had “sympathy for students who desire to take a breath before further intense study”.

“I can understand it (after) the pressure of Year 11 and 12, and some students need time to mature a bit more,” she said.

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