The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on teaching and learning in South Africa, with final year students being widely affected. Not only have the last 18 months seen significant changes in the way students have had to adapt and change their learning styles, but it has also impacted social interactions. The result of this has been an increase in anxiety, depression, and lack of motivation among students. The question is, what can be done to get these students back on track? The solution, a structured gap year experience.

The mental and emotional impact of COVID-19 on students

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many restrictions related to school and learning. Several schools across the country went virtual and turned to online learning. Students were removed from the classroom and needed to keep motivated while only interacting through a screen. Rudi Viljoen, Founder of the internationally accredited Warriors Academy Gap Year Program and Human Behaviour Specialist, elaborates on the impact this has had on students below.

There is something to be said about the need for human interaction and the need for personal connection – it is vital to our general mental health and wellbeing. With the restrictions placed within the various levels of lockdown, social interaction has been kept to a minimum. This has seen an increasing number of people across age groups battle with anxiety and depression, especially teenagers and final year students.

The pressure to perform as you would during a regular school year, the cancelling of sport, social events and more have meant that several students have felt isolated, lacked motivation and struggled along in what everyone was referring to as the “new normal”. However, there is nothing “normal” about this experience. In many cases, final year students have felt like they have been deprived of celebrating this milestone of a year.

This has created a mental shift that has left many students feeling flat, with little self-confidence and direction. What is the solution to getting students back to where they were before the pandemic? The simple answer is a structured gap year experience.

What is a gap year, and what are the benefits of taking one?

A gap year is a time-out from studies or a career, taken by a student after school or studies. It can be many things for different people, but ultimately it is an investment in a person’s future. A well-structured gap year program is an opportunity for a person to learn more about themselves, gain confidence, step out of their comfort zone, and ultimately help them find their path, both personally and professionally.

From a coaching perspective and extensive experience at the Warriors Academy, the real benefit of a structured gap year is the development of a student’s emotional maturity and ability to adapt and deal with challenges.

When choosing a gap year program, it is essential that the program is structured with a balance of activities, travel and personal coaching. A gap year program should not be a party holiday but rather a safe, fun and professional environment that focuses on helping equip students with the skills necessary to excel and activities that build confidence while challenging them to grow and develop.

At the Warriors Academy, specifically, our team facilitates this through adventure activities, workshops aimed at addressing our students emotional and mental health, as well as providing career guidance and coaching to help those who aren’t sure what their passions are to find direction. This has become a vital skill needed in the wake of the pandemic to help young people find their way in a very changed world.

It is also critical when choosing a gap year program that the program is accredited. This will give you peace of mind, knowing that the structure of the program has been assessed, approved and is being governed by a set of standards and regulations.

So, if you are a final year student battling to find direction and motivation and dealing with the anxiety and depression that has resulted from living through a global pandemic, then a structured gap year program may be exactly what you need. At the Warriors Academy, we focus on helping young people develop their mental and emotional strength to cope with these elements and help our students succeed in whatever they choose to pursue.

To find out more about the Warriors Academy Gap Year program, visit https://www.warriors.co.za/ .

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