Taking a year’s break from education before going to university is an increasingly popular choice for many young people. The gap year is both a test of independence and a chance to experience other cultures. Australia, with its wild, natural beauty and plentiful work opportunities is a favoured destination.
Alvar Raagel is a gap year student, who is picking apples in Australia, said it is not an easy life: “The hardest thing is the long hours, ten and a half usually. The same work, the same movements. Picking apples, taking apples, putting them to your basket, and that’s it. But sometimes I feel it’s a challenge for me. I can’t stand life just lying on the sofa, drinking beer and watching TV. I just want to see if I can do something harder.”
Australia is a popular choice for gap year students from all over the world. But it’s not all work – there is time to play too, and discover new activities. Helping feed the animals is a new experience for people who have always lived in the city.
Phil Murray from gapadvice.org says that gap years are a positive experience for most young people: “Firstly, a gap year isn’t ideal for everyone, but the age of 18 is a very special time. Young people have had 14 years in education, and there’s a chance to have a break, do something different, gain new skills and certainly it is a boost in confidence. From a practical point of view a gap year can also improve your chance of getting a university place, will prepare you for higher education and in the future, employers like to see it on your CV. So, as far as I’m concerned it’s great.”
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The gap year is not always about fun and foreign travel however. For some it offers a second chance to make the leap to university level, as is the case for a group of students in South Africa.
In South Africa about half of the 19-25 year olds are unemployed, meaning that competition for jobs is fierce. A good education is crucial.
But schools are overflowing, drop out rates are high and exam passes are rare. There can be anything up to 70 students in a single class.
Jonathan Clark, Head of Schools Development Unit at the University of Cape Town, explained: “We’ve got universal education in this country. Essentially, if you want to go to school, particularly in the metropolitan areas, whether it be primary or secondary school, you can actually go to school. Our problem then is not one of quantity, it’s of quality.”
In Cape Town a small organisation called Equal Education offers a second chance to those who managed to pass their exams but did not get good enough marks to get into university.
They studies Community Leadership, and treat it like a gap year. As everyone knows individual attention is what gets good results.
As well as upping their own academic performance, students doing this gap year are expected to take part in actions to increase academic access for everyone.
Brad Brockman, the deputy head of the Youth and Community Department, Equal Education said: “What we are looking to create is a movement which can make the education system accountable. We want to raise awareness, raise people’s knowledge about their rights, and enable them to demand their rights.
The lucky few campaign for more teachers with better training, more libraries and improved school infrastructure so that everyone can get a good education.