The Transition Year programme, or TY as it is more commonly known as is a non-academic “gap” year that is thoroughly unique to the Irish secondary education system. While students in other countries may take a ‘gap’ year between finishing second level and starting third level education, it is not a structured year, nor is it embedded in mainstream education.
Transition Year provides a bridge to help pupils make the transition from a highly-structured environment to one where they will take greater responsibility for their own learning and decision making. Pupils participate in learning strategies which are active and experiential, and which help them to develop a range of transferable critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
We tend to think of stress and pressure on Leaving Cert students as a modern-day phenomenon. It’s not! Way back in 1974(!) the then Minister for Education, Richard Burke, introduced Transition Year saying; “Because of the growing pressures on students for high grades and competitive success, educational systems are becoming, increasingly, academic treadmills. Increasingly, too, because of these pressures the school is losing contact with life outside and the student has little or no opportunity “to stand and stare”, to discover the kind of person he or she is, the kind of society they will be living in and, in due course, contributing to, its shortcomings and its good points. The suggestion was made that perhaps somewhere in the middle of the course we might stop the treadmill and release the students from the educational pressures for one year so that they could devote time to personal development and community service”.
And so, in 1974 three schools and 66 students in Dublin, Tipperary and Mayo piloted such a year. By the early 1990s, 150 schools and more than 8,000 students were pursuing an optional Transition Year. By September 1994, the first year in which it was offered as an option to all schools, there were 451 schools and more than 21,000 students in the programme.
Today it is available in most schools. Some schools prefer that all their students do Transition Year. Others, for various reasons, only have it available to a number of their students. Some students decide not to do the year and go straight into the Leaving Cert cycle after third year.
Schools are free to devise their own programme for Transition Year. This freedom has benefits and drawbacks. Very often the programme is dependent on the enthusiasm and energy of the teachers involved. Transition Year is the first Irish curriculum programme to be devised, delivered, assessed and evaluated by the schools themselves; and in many ways, its introduction was revolutionary and far-sighted in its harnessing of the non-academic “multiple intelligences” which schools traditionally place little value on.
During the year students continue to study core subjects BUT the Transition Year programme is NOT part of the Leaving Certificate programme and should NOT be an opportunity for spending three years rather than two studying Leaving Certificate material.
Transition Year creates opportunities to vary the learning environment and to dispel the notion that learning is something that happens only, or even most effectively, within the classroom. One of the ways of doing this, and of providing an orientation towards the world of work, is the inclusion of actual work experience. Many students have changed their career/college choices having spent a week doing what they thought was their dream job, only to find that the reality was completely different.
Transition Year is a uniquely Irish year and one we should be very proud of. We recognise that education is not only about exam results, that students mature at different times and that personal development is important. It is a year in which students are encouraged to engage with the world around them, to explore and question it. It helps them to become more aware as adults and that has to be good for everyone’s future!
Elaine Sparling is the CEO of the award-winning Hummingbird Learning Centre®. Based in Adare, Co Limerick, and Tralee, Co Kerry, she works with clients on a one to one basis and can be contacted on 087-2996054 or through their website www.hummingbirdlearning.com. In addition to their core 10 session programs, they also have a 4 session one to one Study Skills Program called Study Success for second and third level students. Call now for more information