By Essie Bester
Your child’s final matric examination is just around the corner and suddenly he is under a lot of pressure. After 12 years at school where, in a safe framework, he seldom had to make big decisions, he is now expected to be grown-up and responsible and to decide what he wants to do with his future. To go and study after school just because “everybody is going to swot” is not the right decision. His self-image and self-confidence can take a knock if he chooses the wrong direction and drops out.
“It’s a waste of money to send children to university to take just any course just so that he or she can do something. This often does not pay off,” says Linda de Rooster, an educational psychologist from Pretoria. Prof Amanda Lourens from the North-West University says only one-third of South African students who enrol for a three-year course at a tertiary institution complete their degree. This drop-out figure is considerably higher than that at international universities and is blamed on the fact that students, because of the sudden independence, find adaptation to the university too big and demanding. Students also make the wrong career decisions and choose fields of study in a hurry without really knowing what the field of study or career entails.
But how do you decide? How does one, at the age of 18, know what career to choose? “If a child’s interests have not yet taken shape in his matric year, it would be better to take a gap year during which they can learn about responsibility and independence,” says Linda. “A gap year tells you who you are and what is important to you. It forces you out of your comfort zone,” is the opinion of Jessica Gould of Gap Year South Africa. South African research shows that a gap year or break-away year ─ especially as far as the development of the so-called “soft skills” are concerned ─ can be of value.
The idea of a gap year is fast gaining ground in South Africa. An important feature that distinguishes a gap year from an extended holiday, is that young people keep themselves busy with meaningful activities. Some of the possibilities are taking a job, doing military or religious service, or enrolling for self-development programmes. The comprehensive study programme of gap-year programmes can help young people make informed career choices, to become independent and to develop as adults. However, it offers much more than just training. It transforms young people’s lives, lays the foundation for adult life, and prepares young people for tertiary study.
But how can parents know whether their child needs a break-away year after matric? Dr Karen van der Merwe from the School for Behavioural Sciences in the Faculty of Humanities at the NWU’s Vaal Triangle Campus gives the following reasons for considering a break-away year:
- Uncertainty about personal identity. “This is when school leavers don’t have a clear picture of their personal likes and dislikes. They are often dependent on their parents and friends and find it difficult to make rational decisions by themselves.”
- Career uncertainty. “The career choice guidance given at school does not always satisfy everybody’s needs and leaves many children confused and uncertain.”
- Resistance against further study. “Some children would very much like to have a year free of studying and resists any immediate further study.”
- Not ready yet. “There are also children who simply do not feel ready for further study.”
A gap year can be a good thing as long as it is realised that it is not an excuse for partying. There must be a good structure so that children are challenged mentally and intellectually to grow. Learners who choose to take the gap year must therefore make sure that the year is well planned. An unproductive gap year could make you lose motivation for further study the following year. It is therefore important to consider the disadvantages of a gap year. Valuable matric work can easily be forgotten and it could also be financially disastrous if the year is not used wisely. Should you consider taking a gap year, make sure of your options. Talk to somebody who has done it to get a more realistic idea of what such a year entails, and do research! Otherwise your child may come back just as confused and still not know what he wants to do.
Advantages of a gap year:
- You have more time to think about your future.
- It can boost your self-confidence.
- It is an opportunity for personal development.
- It can be an opportunity for earning extra money and for saving.
- It is an opportunity to extending your skills and pursuing your passion.
Disadvantages of a gap year:
- It could be difficult to start studying again after a year or two.
- Should you decide only to travel or not to work during this time, it could become an expensive exercise that could leave you in debt.
- You will be lagging behind in your studies compared to other people of the same age.
- It also means that you could be entering the labour market later.
- You could be doing it for the wrong reasons.
There are two ways for planning a gap year. You can organise it yourself (usually the cheaper option) or through a gap-year programme provider. Read more on the following programmes’ websites for more information about what they offer:
Volunteer Centre: www.volcent.co.za
Work and Travel South Africa: www.worktravelsa.org
Christen Instansie: www.yearofyourlife.co.za
Projects Abroad: www.projects-abroad.org.za
YDP Work and Travel: www.ydp.co.za
Au Pair in America: www.planmygapyear.co.uk/southafrica
Equilibria School of Life: www.equilibriaschool.co.za
Mooikrans Equus: www.mooikrans.co.za/index.php/post-matriek-jaar.html