Transition year, or ‘TY’, is a year-long programme for secondary school students, typically optional, placed between third and fifth year. Although it is not offered by all Irish schools, it is offered by many, some 75 per cent in fact, and for some students it is even compulsory. It is usually presented as a chance to mature, to expand your horizons, and develop your interests. However, it is also often dismissed as a ‘doss year’, and while some students claim that it helped them a great deal, others agree with that consensus.
The debate over the uses and benefits of TY has been a hot-button topic in my school ever since we started in September. Many of my fellow students have this discussion in private, and it has been utilised as a topic more than once in our weekly Toastmasters meetings. When called to speak on this subject, students typically begin with disclosing their reasoning behind choosing TY, as opposed to continuing into fifth year. In general, many of those who have discussed their opinion, either publicly or in private, state that a significant factor in their decision was the desire to ‘take a break’ after the stress of the Junior Certificate. Others have cited a desire to investigate their subject choices more thoroughly, with the benefit of their Junior Certificate results to draw from, or to plan their future career path. Overall, the main reason that people have for choosing TY is the desire for more time. Rarely, if ever, do people talk about wanting to experience TY’s unique subject options, or the numerous trips offered as part of the year. In general, students seem to be interested in TY as ‘free time’ rather than in its own merits.
When my school was attempting to ‘sell’ TY to the students’ families, the main point that they emphasised was the TY students’ increased maturity after the year. My principal stated that he was often told about how different the parents felt that their children were at the end of the year, again, how much they had matured. This is something I have heard as well, personally, both about myself, and about family members who have done TY before me. Students allegedly leave with new perspectives, broadened horizons, new interests, and more cohesive career plans. I know that, for myself, I would generally agree with these assertions. I am hugely grateful for, as an example, the time I was allowed in order to investigate my career options, which informed my subject choices. I now have a basic understanding of my college and career plans, as well as the CAO forms. As for increased maturity, I hope that I have made strides since September, but I really couldn’t say, and the same goes for broadened horizons. I’m learning ukulele, if that counts as a new interest, although my underwhelming musical talent makes it unlikely that this skill will lead anywhere substantial.
But still, wouldn’t most of these benefits occur as a consequence of living a year of your life as a developing teenager regardless? If you skipped school for a year, wouldn’t you still have enough free time to explore your passions, as well as plan for your future, and mature as a person, without paying for the admission fee, and the trips, and the books, and the uniform, and the stationery and the transport fees? What are the unique benefits of TY that distinguish it from just a gap year, other than that you can pay for a personalised TY jumper?
While many of my teachers seemed genuinely engaged in the opportunity granted by TY to let them expand beyond the limitations of the Junior and Leaving Certificate curriculums, others appeared uninspired. The main advice that we were given in preparation for this year was to not let an opportunity go by, that those who got the most out of TY were the ones who put the most of themselves into it. It seems that this advice applies not only to the students, but to the teachers as well.
The wide variety of activities and subjects offered by TY is presented as an asset, however it did mean that we and the teachers were often stretched thin. There have been countless times when we missed out on a project or event because it was in conflict with a TY trip, and with a limited number of classes assigned to each module, that meant that the activity would, more often than not, be dropped.
However, despite the downsides and setbacks that they are well aware of, most of my peers would, if given the option, choose TY again. And while it may be a school year mainly characterised by ‘free time’, what that entails differs wildly from student to student, whether it’s lying back and watching TV, learning piano, getting fit, or part-time work. Overall, in my experience, despite worries that it gets students ‘out of the habit of studying’, TY students say that they feel more prepared for fifth year, not less. And, with TY students consistently receiving higher scores in the Leaving Certificate than students who skipped the programme, their feelings seem to be supported by facts.
As my school year draws to a close, and the students of the ‘new’ Junior Certificate prepare for their own transition year, I do wonder about the benefits that I have reaped from this year of my life. And as my friends and I turn our sights towards fifth year, time will tell whether or not we chose wisely.