Question everything.

Posted on January 26, 2012 by


Name: Louise Tan
Gap: August 2011 – August 2012
Brief education history: A-Levels at HELP Academy
Interests: Politics, history, English literature, economics, gender and sexuality studies

I sort of always knew I would take a gap year. The idea first crept into my head at the beginning of Form 5, when I realized I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I wanted to study. Three years on and that hasn’t changed, but lots of other things have – most importantly the way I looked at what it means to have an education, or to go to university.

At first, the biggest problem was that others seemed to think that there weren’t enough things to do in a year, and that a gap year meant I’d be doing nothing for an entire year. I had no problem rattling off a long list of activities I’d engage in. But that in itself raised several questions – why was it assumed that a gap in education is a waste of time? The underlying belief seemed to be that any time not spent ‘studying’ was time wasted.

Adults were not the only people perpetuating this belief. When discussing plans for university, many of my peers said wistfully, ‘I’d like to take a gap year… But I have no idea what I’d do for a whole year.’ Or ‘I’m afraid I’ll forget how to study lah.’

This led to yet another question: why are we so utterly dependent on our education system to teach us anything? Didn’t we all find out at one point in time that the best lessons in school were the ones spent outside of the classroom? I’m certain that all of us fondly remember a radical teacher that spent lots of classroom time talking about thing completely unrelated to the syllabus. By contrast we hardly remember lessons and teachers that followed the syllabus to a T. Why, then, are we so certain that if we are not attached to an institution of education, we will not learn anything at all? By this rule, all adults who are long out of university should be dumb as doorknobs; and since that clearly isn’t the case, something wasn’t right in the way I was thinking about learning.

I found that my learning process lacked two key elements: creativity and independence. I was not creative with what I learnt; I learnt only what had been cut out for me in my syllabus. Someone else had decided that it was important for me to learn these things, and I had unconditionally accepted that as a measure of my intelligence. I was also completely and utterly dependent on classroom material to absorb anything. Is it any wonder that I hadn’t any idea what I wanted to do?

I left things till the last minute, giving myself enough time to think things over. In May 2011, I formally declined all my offers from universities in the UK. The gap year has left me free to create my own ‘syllabus’ (i.e. studying things because I want to, not because they’re more marketable), but I also have to have the discipline to stick to it! Taking a gap just before university was also the right choice because university applications wouldn’t have to contend with A-Level exams. More importantly, I am doing things that I am passionate about, and I am learning a lot. I might even say I’m learning much more than I ever did in high school.

Currently I’m doing my second political internship with a member of parliament, and that’s taking up most of my time. Once that ends, I’m toying with the idea of taking some dancing and singing classes, since I currently can’t do either. Most of my free time now is spent online – I’m working my way through the Harvard series: Justice with Michael Sandel. Since the gap year began, I’ve read a lot of gender/sexuality issues forums and I may be gravitating towards a major in that field.

My gap year thus far has taught me skills that will not only enable me to make the most out of my university life, but also help me be a lifelong learner. I may go on to do many greater things in my lifetime, but I’m certain that this gap year will be one of the most important things I have ever done.

Posted in: Profile