One side of the conversation asks how can we expect 17 and 18 year olds to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. The other side encourages students to go through high school and directly into post-secondary education as historically, that has been the most common path. I’m not suggesting that the latter is wrong in the slightest, however, sometimes this linear route can resemble a conveyor belt through education as opposed to a path of self-exploration. Often we hear that graduates have not acquired a skill set necessary to succeed and are working in jobs that aren’t relative to their education. Perhaps we need to look deeper than the output to truly find the problem. Perhaps these students at 17 years old were put on the wrong conveyor belt.
I often get asked by parents how I feel about their kids taking a gap year or a victory lap. My first thought is, if you are even asking you almost 100% should take an extra year before you commit to higher education. Exploration and self discovery are not confined to four walls, a desk, a whiteboard and a professor. I was originally admitted to Kinesiology from high school, but decided to return for a victory lap. Upon completing an additional year at high school, my best friend and I decided to tour Australia and Hawaii instead of going to higher education. While I was taking my path of self exploration, my father was often challenged by his colleagues for not encouraging me to go directly to university. He was often told by his peers that I would never go back to school and that each year away from education would make it harder and harder to return.
Both my brother and I took a couple of years off. Both my brother and I have a university degree. Both my brother and I are successfully progressing in our careers… that are unrelated to our majors.
I was one of two students at my high school that decided to return for a victory lap. We both completed our university degrees. I reached out to my victory lap colleague, Jeff Shaughnessy, the other day to ask him how he felt about taking the extra year. His response, “To be 100% honest, my victory lap was the single-greatest education-related decision I ever made”. Jeff just celebrated his 6 anniversary working for the City of London as an Integrated Land Planning Technologist. Jeff and I were both outgoing individuals, he had a passion for music and played in a band, I had a passion for baseball and played for Ontario. I’ve recently discovered through my research in education that the high school Jeff and I attended has been rated as one of the worst high schools in Canada by the Fraser Institute. According to traditional metrics used to determine academic success, nobody would have bet on Jeff and I.
In other countries, military conscription is a reality that high school students have to face before continuing education. The rules of conscription vary from country to country and often you will find individuals fit their military duty in with their studies. Regardless, if you are for or against conscription, these individuals are learning and developing leadership attributes from these experiences. One student from Stanford was quoted “It kind of makes me think I can do anything that is easier than the army”.
The conversation around youth unemployment is troubling to say the least. Some projections anticipate the cost during the most recent recession to have a $23.1 billion price tag to Canadian youth in lost wages. It is challenging to pin the entirety of this crisis on the recession itself. Some have even sited that the problem started as far back as 2003. The projections of the cost are also attributed to a lower starting point for youth and gaps in employment. What is interesting about 2003 is that Premier Mike Harris decided to eliminate OAC (Grade 13). The reason the Progressive Conservative party wanted to eliminate grade 13 was that it would save the province $22.3 million. Would I go so far as to say this is Mike Harris’ fault, no. There are many other places in the world that are facing youth unemployment challenges, however, $22.3 million now seems like a small price to pay to give students a better opportunity to figure out their academic and career path.
Sometimes students aren’t ready to learn at the university level. Likely they aren’t mature enough or it is their first time away from home, or both. With that comes…
Sometimes the current of life takes us down the path of growing up too fast and with that kids aren’t allowed to be kids. There is so much to see and learn and really, there is a lot of time to do all of it. When I get asked by parents what I think about the victory lap/gap year, of course, my answer could appear biased, but experience allows me support that decision. Most who oppose, likely didn’t experience Australia the way I did.
So, what do you choose? The conveyor belt or a path of self-exploration? For students who know exactly what they want to do from high school, then for them, university is the path of self-exploration. For students who are going to university because everyone else is, then they are choosing the conveyor belt.