What used to be an experiment earlier is nowadays an informed choice. The decision to pause and mull over the infinite career choices is being considered seriously by a large number of students in India. Abhishek Sharma, 17, was amongst the thousands looking for admission in a top college. However, he decided to take a break from academics. "To take a break after my high school was the best decision of my life. It helped me explore my real interests and perceive my career options better." This was the time when he indulged in his passion — film production. Making the most of this period, he went on to work as an assistant director with a documentary filmmaker.
Similarly, Ankita Sehgal, after finding out about gap year programmes, decided to attend a nine-month workshop with an NGO in Uttarakhand. Sharing her experience, she says, "We are so busy trying to get a seat in a college or university that we cannot even afford to look around and explore. There are so many things outside the confines of classrooms and text-book learning, and unless we explore, we will be unable to pick up valuable life-skills." Taking a breather from the educational cycle has been a Western concept. It originated in the decade following the Second World War, when youth-travel and cultural exchange was thought to be a useful tool to create global understanding and prevent further wars.
The concept has been a success in the US, where gap fairs, similar to college fairs, are organised every year. In India, the first Gap Year College was started in Mussourie, Uttrarakhand, in 2007, to help students explore their interests and learn new skills. Started by former IITian, Vinish Gupta, this programme was later discontinued and has now metamorphosed into the Centre for Holistic Learning and is based in Karnataka. Though taking a year off is not a new phenomenon for Indian students, it continues to remain as a break period to prepare for competitive examinations. However, the scope of a gap year goes much beyond. "Even though a gap year may seem like a period when you do 'nothing,' eventually, this breather turns out to be the space for making perfect decisions in terms of life and career. It's like discovering your true self," says Reva Dandage, co-founder of Swaraj University, Udaipur.
Optios Galore: Today, several institutes and organisations in India are offering gap year programmes that empower students with valuable skills and encourage a high level of critical thinking. From theatrics to creative writing and carpentry to ecology, students have varied options to choose from. Udaipur-based Swaraj University offers a programme, which lays stress on self-directed learning, skill-development and green entrepreneurship. Similarly, Mahindra United World College, Pune, is offering an Experiential Learning Programme. Besides, several volunteer organisations offer programmes in the area of educating street children, volunteering, women empowerment and travel opportunities, both in India and abroad.
The idea of taking a gap year after high school is bound to raise a few eyebrows in India since most parents and educators are not in favour of any breaks in the academic cycle. As Gupta puts it, "There is too much of pressure on students from parents and teachers. Parents get worried that children may end up wasting time. Moreover, the fear of students falling behind their peers is also a concern." Likewise, Dandage adds, "We, as a society, are still to understand the true relevance of gap year programmes. We are following the tried and tested methods of competing for exams and college seats, leaving no scope for experiments, wherein students can actually make a career choice based on their own interest and understanding."
Future Area: "Taking a gap year can actually make students more focused and prepare them for a steady career. Though a detour from the conventional track of educational courses and entrance examinations, it is a ticket to a better career. The way our education system is functioning, the day is not far when gap year would become a necessity," adds Dandage. Elaborating on the advantages of a gap year, Usha Albuquerque, career counsellor, says, "The gap year is useful for students who are unsure of what to do in life. But in the Indian context, I would say that students at high-school level are too immature to figure it out for themselves. But yes, after graduation, students can explore various programmes and options of a gap year, as it broadens their horizon and takes them closer to a right career choice."
Courtesy: Times of India