Don’t mind the GAP

Each individual’s gap year experiences are unique...   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The tradition of a gap year can be traced back to affluent British men of the 17th century who travelled for a year to gain experiences before starting college. Over time, this trend spread to other countries. Eventually,the gap year evolved into an immersive learning experience, usually in an alien environment, away from family. Consistent growth in overseas education over the past few decades has further fuelled the appeal of gap year, leading to several U.S. universities allowing participants to gain real-world experiences before commencing formal college education.

Distinct and unique

For a young adult looking to undertake a gap year, the defining feature is the quality of learning and self-discovery through immersion and reflection. It enables development of personal identity and character, allowing for exploration of interests and appreciation of cultural, social and environmental diversity. Each individual’s gap year experiences are unique, giving them a distinct personal identity and voice that differentiates them from that of their peers. These formative experiences also better equip young adults to be deal with complex and real-life situations. In addition, a better appreciation of the practical world and its challenges enables these students to assimilate the knowledge of their chosen disciplines and apply them with fresh perspectives.

However, not everyone is very positive about the gap year. Critics point to out the challenges of finding meaningful and productive gap year activities that are aligned with student interests and the trend of students dropping out of college education after their gap years.

The current pandemic has accelerated the need for gap year among young adults. Owing to travel restrictions, most universities are compelled to shift to online and hybrid learning, resulting in the loss of campus experience. Outside the classrooms, the shift to virtual internships and suspension of exchange programmes have led students to opt for a gap semester or a gap year, with the hope that students will get to experience ‘pre-pandemic campus life’ once the crisis is resolved.

Need for dialogue

The negative perception of the gap year is quite deep rooted within Indian higher education and this is reflected in the attitude of parents, teachers and even schools. Here, a ‘gap’ in the educational journey is still viewed as a disgrace and the reasons for such thinking can be traced back to different social, economic and employment practices prevalent in our country. Hence there is a need for a dialogue on the benefits and limitations of the gap year in the current Indian education system.

Historically, the education systems in India have encouraged students to attain their qualifications without any gaps, and to view education as a linear progression. This may have been suitable in the past when the emphasis was on acquisition of knowledge in the chosen discipline. However, the emerging technologies that are now driving the workplace and society at large call for completely different workforce attributes, such as sense-making, emotional intelligence and risk-taking. These are life-skills that can be shaped through a well-crafted exposure during a gap year. Such young adults will be able to bring these insights into their classroom discussions and enrich peer learning.

In order for the gap year to become mainstream, educational institutions need to reconsider their entry requirements so that high-school grades are complemented or supplemented with the quality of real-life learning experiences and the candidate’s assessment goes beyond academic achievements. This will extend the benefits of gap year beyond individuals, creating next generation of young leaders ready to address the mega challenges and issues such as climate change, sustainability and diversity and inclusion.

The writer is Associate Dean – Global MBA and MGB, SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 12:04:33 PM |

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