“Their numbers may be small but there are signs that more university students in Singapore are willing to take a break from the academic rat race to achieve other personal goals” (More University Students Take Break From School To Focus On Personal Goals, Miss Tan Qiuyi).
So only 1.26 per cent of students at the National University of Singapore chose to take leave from school in the last academic year (More University Students Take Break From School To Focus On Personal Goals, Jan. 3). It is 0.09 per cent at the Nanyang Technological University, and 0.04 per cent at the Singapore Management University (two or more consecutive terms).
The idea of a gap year or semester is not new, but it is – anecdotally – gaining traction globally. Unlike the examples raised in the report, students typically take time off to develop or explore career pathways, and engage in different, advanced academic courses.
Nonetheless the numbers in Singapore might be puzzling to some, when – as pointed out by Associate Professor Paulin Straughan – “the modular system of universities today gives students the flexibility to take a break from school, and not lose momentum when they return”. Beyond the relentless rat race, such an arrangement does seem ideal. Immersing oneself in relevant work experience, for instance, would be a good complement to school.
Instead, many of us scramble during the winter and summer breaks, squeezing in multiple internships and engagements. Idleness is the holiday of fools, it would appear.
Individuals who take on a gap period in Singapore are certainly the exception, and many of their justifications are extraordinary. Extraordinary, because a quick survey with the undergraduates who chose otherwise would have ascertained the prevailing pragmatism that plagues the population. Colleges emphasise the degrees that take the shortest times, students fret about taking on more modules. Why would one, especially those who have completed their National Service, want to lag behind counterparts? Are there tangible incentives associated with the gap period? How can one stay in school for so long, when one has to get a job quickly to get stable incomes to buy a car a flat get married have children…
This as-soon-as-possible mind-set is deeply ingrained. I too am guilty, and it is unfortunate.
I think schools are trying their best in this regard, to address this eagerness to fit speedily into Singapore’s vast economic machinery. NUS – for example – has programmes with overseas colleges, entrepreneurial hubs, and local start-up companies, through which participants can take a semester off as students-cum-interns. But there is only so much the universities can do.
Shedding a predilection for certainty is particularly relevant in an increasingly ambiguous world, and I should detach myself from the conventional mentality. In the bigger picture the government – or any administrative body – should not be providing prescriptions, expecting undergraduates to do this, to be that. A gap term is but one possibility. Rather, students can be encouraged to think for their own, to doubt, and to be introspective.
And we must eventually do our part, to reciprocate.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.