Taking a gap year after high school is something very common among students in Western countries. They take the time off from school mostly to develop or nurture their interests and skills and create a portfolio among other things.
However, this has not been a very popular choice in India. In fact, this is something that is treated as a “hush-hush topic” and children are usually discouraged from opting for a gap year.
“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.
Historically, the education systems in India encouraged students to attain their qualifications without any gaps and to view education as a linear progression. Demand and supply of education services are way out of line so waiting for admission was not seen as the right course. As one believed that delay would increase competition, thereby reducing chances,” explains Sonya Ghandy Mehta, Director, Pathways World School, Aravali.
However, the emergence of technology and the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on this thought process, Mehta adds. “People now have started believing that young adults can consider taking time out to consider the way forward and develop skills that will be able to bring insights and preparedness to the student, helping them in classroom discussions and later on in the workplace,” she says.
Some students have started utilising this change and taken a gap year, also known as a drop year, after their high school exams. “I took a gap year after my 12th board exams and I travelled domestically. I learnt so much about different cultures and now I am an average Kannada speaker. I had also utilised that year to meet an academic counsellor and talk to her about what I really want to do in life,” says Pooja*, who completed her Class 12 in 2018. “So, I spent that year learning different musical instruments and did my research on music schools in India and abroad, instead of mindlessly jumping into a BA (Hons.) degree,” she adds.
While the concept has just started gaining strength in India, the emergence of the pandemic has also left many wondering whether this is a good time to take a gap year.
Amid uncertainties that the pandemic has thrown up, experts believe students should take that step only if necessary.
“Time is a precious currency and must be used wisely. Students considering a gap year must be clear on how they will utilise it,” says B S Ventakachalam, Principal, Narayana e-Techno School, Bengaluru. “They should talk to older generations who have the benefit of life experience. An open dialogue with parents, teachers, elder siblings, and older students who have taken a gap year in the past, will give them a balanced perspective on how the decision may impact their future. Students must think about it objectively and carefully consider the pros and cons,” says Ventakachalam.
Taking a gap or a break was usually considered normal only for those children who either had to step back due to a financial situation or those who wanted to prepare for entrance examinations for courses such as NEET, CLAT etc. Calling it a “privileged one year”, Shashi Banerjee, Director of Education, Shiv Nadar School says she motivates children to opt for this gap year if they can afford to and if they are willing to do so. However, she also cautions children to “take an informed” decision in this matter.
“Covid has actually brought more acceptance for gap year as most schools who have not had the resources to build internship or apprenticeship programmes might actually look at building such sabbatical programmes now,” says Banerjee.
Another reason that the concept of a gap year is being discussed openly and opted for now is the coronavirus pandemic, she adds. “Covid has actually brought mental health as a central point. People are talking about it more, and people are now more accepting towards it,” says Banerjee.
“However, there are many people even now who do not want to tell a university or their employer that they are not joining due to mental health problems. People are scared that they might think ‘oh this child has some problem. People are still hesitant, but many universities’ attention has been drawn to it. But I think by and large since Covid, universities are and have to become more accepting towards the idea of young people taking a gap year to work on their mental health.”
*Name changed on request