It’s okay to consider a gap year, says educational specialist

Durban Girls Secondary learners celebrating their final days as scholars last year, with one of their teachers. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi

Durban Girls Secondary learners celebrating their final days as scholars last year, with one of their teachers. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi

Published Jan 9, 2024


Durban – An educational specialist says taking a gap year provides an opportunity for matriculants to develop their valuable skills and maturity that assist in their academic momentum when they begin their studies in higher institutions.

Head of marketing and student recruitment at Stadio Atelisha Harilal said in most cases financial constraints are the main reasons compelling matriculants to defer their higher education aspirations until they have earned enough to afford it.

“For others, complex web of university admissions and encountering hurdles in gaining acceptance for their preferred courses or desired tertiary institutions, or simply not knowing what they want to do, is enough to consider taking a much-needed break after the 13-year schooling system.

“While a gap year offers school leavers the opportunity to acquire practical skills such as learning how to drive, improving their communication skills whilst working and saving for the following year,” she said.

According to Council of Higher Education over 900 000 South African matriculants wrote their final National Senior Certificate exams, but more than half of the accomplished high school graduates won’t pursue higher education immediately after getting their results.

From a research conducted by Van Broekhuizen, Van Der Berg & Hofmeyr into the 2008 NSC and Matric cohort, the findings drew out information on the number of learners entering Grade 1 compared to the number that matriculated and attained a degree.

The research indicated that, for the 2008 cohort, 60% of those who entered Grade 1 wrote matric; 12% went to university; and 10% graduated with a qualification.

These findings highlights the need for more educational opportunities to cater for the approximately 80% to 90% of the youth who do not access a university education or graduate with a qualification.

However, opting for a gap also contributes to a risk of falling out of the structured learning despite the advantages considered according to Harilal.

She said the competitive nature of certain job markets may pose a challenge for those who delay their entry into higher education, especially if they have nothing constructive to put down on their resume.

Harilal also highlighted that the financial burden of a gap year can be substantial for those individuals who opt to travel abroad and in turn may struggle to save enough money, delaying their ability to afford higher education.

“The uncertainty of a gap year can contribute to feelings of anxiety and indecision, making it challenging for students to establish clear career goals. This may also lead to many becoming reluctant to leave the comfort of a now familiar comfort zone. Recognising these challenges, some learners and parents may find studying towards a short-term qualification to be more practical and cost-effective

“These options allow matriculants to gain a comprehensive introduction to their areas of interest without committing to a lengthy four-year degree, providing a more financially accessible pathway to further education and career advancement. While a gap year may seem tempting, it often lacks the structured foundation that a higher certificate or short course programme provides,” she added.

To help prospective students and parents grapple with the overwhelming choices post-matric, Harilal suggests asking the following two questions:

– What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months?

One of the key advantages of pursuing some sort of academic commitment during your gap year is the opportunity to develop essential skills like discipline, time management, critical thinking, and persistence.

These competencies go beyond the academic realm and prepare students for success in their professional and personal futures.

– Why do you want to achieve this?

Parents should empower their children to explore their own aptitudes, skills, and interests through a flexible tertiary programme.

It’s a transformative journey that adds tangible value, unlike a year of uncertainty or one spent in an act of self-discovery.

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