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Education for all

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Taking a gap year – why not?

Picture: Pavel Mylnikov

Taking a bit of time before starting college isn't a bad idea

Kathrin’s recent entry mentioned Simon, whose worries as a pupil made me think about something relating to education beyond universities. A favorite topic among those getting ready to graduate: the gap year.

As I understand, it’s quite popular in Western countries. A spare year is open to you; it allows you to broaden your horizons while learning something new or doing some part-time work – or simply travel. One of its aims is to give you some extra time to plan your future. It’s natural that your interests may lie in different spheres by the end of school – so I think it’s good to take some time to think them over and decide where you want your path to lead. But for some reason, this positive phenomenon is practically unknown in lots of countries, including Russia. Why?
One reason is that the number of universities and colleges has increased significantly over the last two decades – getting higher education has been made into a fetish. If you don’t have a diploma or don’t enter a university immediately after school – you are seen as a loser. What about those who have some peculiarities of mental development or have shown no interest in further education? Jobs that require physical skills could be a good solution for them, but the system of colleges and vocational schools has degraded since the early 1990s, when “the new Russia” appeared on the political map. And it is really difficult to rebuild this system – but it is vital if we don’t want to over-saturate the market with university diplomas that are hiding the fact that graduates have few professional skills. That can happen especially in regions where universities created courses within their programs but never found qualified professors to be responsible for teaching them.

Picture: Pavel Mylnikov

I'd like to see gap years become more popular in Russia

Another reason people don’t go for gap years in Russia may be that all males over 18 must spend a year in the army. There are some ways to defer conscription, and studying in a university means getting it. As most boys finish school at 17, they have to enter university right after it, otherwise they will be recruited. But why don’t people want to spend a year in the army? Well, unfortunately, people in Russia think there’s too much violence against younger conscripts and too much corruption. That’s why parents prefer their sons to go on to college. I wonder why don’t consider reforming the army. After all, that’s what civil society is supposed to do when it is not satisfied with a situation.

The third reason that stops people is money. Travelling during a gap year is not what many families can afford (and teenagers usually haven’t saved much money themselves by the end of school), so parents invest in the traditional model of education. Self-education used not to be popular, but as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changin’…”.

I do hope the practice of a gap year will spread among the people in my country. It means experience, learning how to manage your independence – it’s another brick in building your personality.


June 1, 2012 | 10:32 am