Matriculants celebrate their matric results. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Cape Town - Gap years can be a contentious subject, with those for and against sticking to their positions on whether it’s a great option for school leavers.

But money is a hurdle, according to Aimee Bishop of gap year programme company Projects Abroad, who said a traditional gap-year experience for those who have just passed matric more often than not ended up with the person staying home, and taking time to evaluate what they wanted to study, or simply not going to college or university because they couldn’t afford it.

Companies that organise and facilitate gap-year programmes say these need to be well-planned to work to the benefit of school leavers.

“If a gap year isn’t well planned, many people who intend to take one end up staying home and lying around on their parents’ couch for a year,” Bishop said. “For this reason, sometimes parents don’t like a gap year before studies.”

For others, a gap year is a time of over-indulgence in almost everything out there – from parties, alcohol and drugs, to junk food and sex, said Rudi Viljoen, founder of Warriors, another gap-year programme company.

A gap year is essentially the sabbatical of the 21st century; usually, it happens either before or immediately after tertiary studies. Taking a gap year can give a school leaver perspective on what career path they want to follow, said Bishop, adding that it could also offer them a good chance to further their understanding of the working world.

Viljoen said that a gap year could, if done right, offer school leavers a valuable and challenging learning experience.

“A well-structured year out will be part of a lifelong education process, and will make a significant contribution to an individual’s development.”

Viljoen explained that employers and universities increasingly attached importance to the emotional maturity levels of those who took a structured gap year.

Bishop agreed, saying they found many international universities were in support of gap years because these helped applicants get into specialised programmes if they had experience in the field of study they wished to pursue.

“This is particularly the case with medical and journalism projects. Often, university candidates who have experienced a gap year are also more focused… and universities appreciate their maturity levels.”

Most South African youngsters who take a gap year travel overseas, finding jobs abroad to fund their travels. They may also work to earn currencies like pounds or euros to use for their studies when they return home, according to Bishop.

Depending on what a school leaver wants to do during a gap year, programmes offered by Warriors and Projects Abroad include teaching, care, medicine, conservation, law, human rights, archaeology, sports, emotional fitness, social skills development, eco-tourism, entrepreneurship, work readiness, health and fitness.

Saturday Argus