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【The Standard】Bridging the Gap

School Guide


The tweny-first century has seen many revolutions in education but one of the most formative has been the growing trend for students to take a ‘year off’ between leaving school and starting university: every decade the ‘GAP YEAR’ giant grows bigger and bigger.


Until the late 1990s, it was considered rather odd (if not eccentric) and, in some quarters, detrimental to a youngster’s education for them not to move seamlessly from one level of education to the next, and those who did take a year off in between really were in the minority.  However, by the turn of the century, and ever since, this has been completely turned on its head and it will soon be those who do NOT take a Gap Year who will be considered the oddities!


Strangely enough, this phenomenon is not actually a new one at all.  From the 17th to the early 19th century, young British ladies and gentlemen would have spent a year doing a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, taking in the sights and culture of the continent.  British ‘milennials’ (as the children of the 2000s are known) have simply re-invented this tradition and made it their own – the Gap Year.  They are not alone: for Australian and New Zealand school leavers, their ‘OE’ (overseas experience) is a rite of passage, and their American counterparts are now beginning to join the bandwagon too.  The number of US entrants to university who take a Gap Year is estimated to be growing by 20-30% per year.  While the numbers are much smaller than elsewhere in the West, this trend is only going in one direction.


Hong Kong and Asian parents may be wary of this phenomenon: education is perceived to be a carefully managed path, and to deviate from this will damage future educational and professional success.  However, this well-intentioned approach may not actually reap the desired rewards in to-day’s ever-increasingly frenetic world.  The fact that Harvard admissions staff actually encouraged Gap Years by publishing a ‘Time Out or Burn Out’ guide, indicates that many now realise the benefits of taking a year off.  Which of us would choose to rush between one strenuous activity and the next without a rest or a meal or drink?  It would be like not replenishing the body with the fuel it needs to function.  So too for children leaving school at 18, having just completed 12-14 years of compulsory education, most often culminating in stressful examinations.


A Gap Year enables youngsters to draw breath, to mature, to experience life in the real world, to see things beyong their own social groups, socities and cultures.  Whether the Gap Year is spent in the workplace (which university medical school wouldn’t prefer to see real experince of working in a hospital alongside top academic qualifications?), earning money or travelling to the far corners of the earth, it will never be a wasted one.  Your child will probably emerge as a young man or woman – and will probably have had fun along the way – and what’s wrong with that?


Niall Browne is the Director of Schools Consultancy at Ascent Prep, Causeway Bay