Face Off: Should gap years be compulsory?

Each week our two teenagers debate a hot topic. This week ...


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Melody Cheung, 16, St Paul's Secondary School (Negative)

Gap years should be optional rather than compulsory.

Those who want to make it compulsory argue that students can enhance their knowledge and gain more life experiences through exchange programmes, learning foreign languages, travelling and volunteering.

However, they ignore the substantial resources required for these activities.

Not all families can afford to pay for their sons or daughters to have a fruitful gap year. English broadcaster Vanessa Feltz has called the gap year a "farcical masquerade", with too much pressure placed on parents to fund their children's adventures.

Some also think a gap year is a waste of time. Students might just spend the year partying or playing on the computer, without doing any meaningful work. Those who try to gain work experience might be unhappy with their job, as they are still not mature enough to handle the workload.

Yet some believe that a gap year gives students more time to think about what they want to do in life. It offers a break from the stressful flurry of looking for a university in the run-up to public exams.

But this is not the case for everybody. A gap year is not necessary for a student to feel determined and ambitious enough to pursue their future career path. Moreover, what most students want is to get into university as soon as possible.

Because secondary school graduates have different resources and needs, they should be given the right to choose whether or not to take a gap year.

Charmain Li, 18, Imperial College London (Affirmative)

A gap year between secondary school and university offers a welcome break for many students who have gone through 13 years of continuous education. It gives young people a chance to grow and find out more about themselves.

This is an essential part of personal development and the transition into adulthood.

Simply taking a year away from the books helps students to recharge their batteries. It also allows them to choose exactly what to do with their free time, or maybe even decide what they really want in life.

This freedom and independence allows students to explore interests and pastimes they never had the time to experience before.

They have many options - they could take on a full-time job to gain work experience and earn some cash, pursue an extra-curricular activity that couldn't be done alongside full-time studies or take part in volunteering and travelling programmes.

Although some people worry that a detour from education could lead to derailment, studies have shown that this is rarely the case. Most people benefit from taking a year off the academic treadmill.

It refreshes the mind and enables students to return to the classroom with greater focus, motivation and purpose. This perhaps is the biggest advantage of taking a gap year.

However, despite the best intentions of compulsory gap years, we must note that the benefits can only be enjoyed properly if well-thought-out goals and plans are made beforehand to ensure that students are able to make the most of their time out from school.