Duke of Edinburgh's International Award: What's In It for You?

Do you want to be pushed out of your comfort zone, go on amazing adventures, or develop strong leadership and team building skills? If you have a willingness to give it a go, discover why the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award can give you the edge in the race for university places. What’s more, with the advent of the Duke of Edinburgh Award inspired ‘Junior Duke’ programme, very young children can begin the confidence building journey that is acquiring life skill and cultural awareness.
Duke of Edinburgh's International Award: What's In It for You?
By Jenny Mollon
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The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award has it all; the blisters, putting up a tent in the pouring rain, or the challenge of scaling a mountain in the midday sun... Memories to last a lifetime. It can be a key event in your secondary education to complete the Bronze Award – and then a life achievement to achieve Silver and Gold. It is about far more than cooking over an open fire in the wild. It is about standing out from the rest. It’s all about setting personal challenges and pushing personal boundaries. And it is about gaining work-ready skills, helping others, pushing yourself physically, and exploring the world.

Founded in the UK, the Award is not a compulsory part of the UK National Curriculum, but more than 110,000 students in the UK alone volunteer to take part in the programme every year. And there are currently more than one million young people worldwide now doing the international version of this award, called the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award.

This extra-curricular activity for teenagers and young adults involves plenty of effort, time (and sweat) at a time when students are studying hard for GCSEs and A Levels – so why do it? Yes, it’s an adventure. (And, yes, it’s a chance to escape the parents for a weekend!) But, more importantly it builds the skills to equip students for life and work.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com looks at why and how students join the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award, we ask if it is that golden ticket to university and how the award has changed due to Covid-19?

What is it?

Named after Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award is an activity programme for 14 to 24-year-olds. There are three progressive levels which, when successfully completed, lead to an internationally recognised Bronze, Silver or Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. Each award involves helping the community/environment, improving fitness, developing new skills, and planning, training for and completing an expedition or exploration. Gold participants also complete the Gold Residential Project, which takes place over a period of at least four nights and five consecutive days; this could be a residential language course, youth camp overseas, voluntary work with national parks, youth parliaments, sports coaching, or being a crew member on a tall ship.

The DofE's International Award says:

"The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is a non-formal education and learning framework operating in more than 130 countries and territories around the world, through which young people’s achievements outside of academia are recognised and celebrated.

"Using the Award framework and with the support of adult volunteers, young people develop their own bespoke programme, as they work towards achieving the internationally recognised Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards. The Award encourages young people to learn new skills, get physically active, volunteer within their communities and discover a sense of adventure outside the classroom.

"Non-formal education and learning plays a role in the development of skills such as resilience, confidence and communication and can help young people find their purpose, passion and place in the world.”

Cast aside those images you see of students weighed down with backpacks scaling a mountain in the rain – the Award is much more of a gradual climb than a race to the top. The four main sections of the international Award programme – Voluntary Service, Physical Recreation, Skills and Adventurous Journey – focus on many different opportunities for personal development. And with each stage lasting from six months up to more than one year, it is a long-term commitment.

For your voluntary service section, you could be helping children to read in libraries, leading a voluntary group, litter picking, or working at an animal rescue centre. Get ready to raise the heartbeat and break out a sweat for the physical recreation section, where you can choose any sport, dance or fitness activity, from archery to windsurfing, caving to tap dancing.

The skills section is your opportunity to develop a personal interest and practical skills; you could learn a new skill in the arts, animal care, gardening, fishing, marine biology, first aid, blogging – the list continues and is as varied as it is long. And finally, for your adventurous journey section, you will need to plan, train for and complete an unaccompanied, expedition or exploration lasting from two to four days; this can be completed by foot, cycle, canoe or kayak.

Service is an important element of the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award

Why do the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award?

Around 25% of A Level students in the UK achieved an A/A* grade in 2019, and in the UAE IB students achieved a high average of 32.80 in the same year.

While making the grade still very much matters, it is more important than ever to show universities that you have something more than your academic achievements – and the Award is one opportunity to develop ‘soft skills’ to add to your application.

Universities and employers are looking for a strong combination of leadership and teamworking skills – and the Award allows students to achieve this in one go. There are stories of students who didn’t get the grades they expected for their A Levels but were still offered their university place because of their passion, skills and commitment shown in the Award.

Jack Hesketh, Duke of Edinburgh's International Award Co-ordinator for Horizon International School enthused about the programme’s strengths;

“The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award provides opportunities for young people to find their purpose, passion and place in today’s world. It allows students to be active and experience adventure, whilst making a significant difference in their communities. Now more than ever, it is vital that young people have the opportunity to build confidence, develop new and existing skills and discover their potential. Building key learning skills such as resilience, problem solving, communication and leadership, will help young people be successful in whichever walk of life they choose”.

How has DofE changed due to Covid?

As Covid-19 continues to spread worldwide, the pandemic has affected various parts of the DofE. There are currently temporary changes to the Award that make it easier for students to continue with their journey during these challenging times. For example, anyone who is unable to volunteer with an organisation outside their home or online can now volunteer from home for family members, and there is the option of completing a Virtual Bronze Exploration (VBE) that can be completed from home.

DofE for little people? Enter the Junior Duke Awards…

The Junior Duke Awards are the brainchild of Dawn Waugh, a teacher at Hutchesons' Grammar School in Scotland. Having seen the positive impact that the Duke of Edinburgh awards had on older children, Dawn decided to create her own version for primary age children…enter Mini Duke and Junior Duke Awards.

Like all good ideas, the Junior Duke Awards has snowballed…from being an in-house affair at Hutchesons’ Grammar School to now being in action in many UK schools (including Gordonstoun, the very first Duke of Edinburgh school!) as well as a long list of UAE schools and even some as far afield as Hong Kong.

Though the Junior Duke Awards were inspired by the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, it must be noted that they are not officially affiliated with the DofE .  That said, Dawn tells us that the idea has been warmly received by those at Duke of Edinburgh HQ, as the DofE Executive Team recognises a real need to engage with children who are even younger that 14.

Cooking is one of many life skills children are tasked with for the Junior Duke Awards

The Junior Duke Awards were born of the premise that life has simply become so busy that many parents do not have the time to allow their young children to acquire basic life skills. We all will recognise the feeling that it’s simply easier and quicker to tie a child’s shoelaces for them rather than allow them time to struggle on and get it right for themselves! Rachael Wilding, Acting-Principal at Smart Vision School in Dubai was the first to bring the awards to the region. We spoke to Rachael to find out why she felt it important that her school introduce the awards to the UAE.

“At Smart Vision School we hope to foster both life skills and cultural awareness in our students. When I first came across the Junior Duke Awards, I knew right away that it was a natural fit for these goals. I met with Dawn at home in Scotland late last year and we got to work adapting the programme for our unique UAE context right away.
"It’s been lovely seeing the immediate impact of the programme. We’ve had Emirati families visiting the Falcon Rescue Centre for the cultural awareness element of the awards and reporting back that they hadn’t previously known it was there! We’ve had other families tell us that the Moral Education challenge part of the award has meant they have become friends with their neighbours in way they hadn’t been before.
"The Junior Duke has also got the whole of our school staff involved, which for a school really focussed on community like ours is just great. Mr Khurram, one of security team, has taken great pride in helping the children tick off the task of learning to fix a puncture on their bikes!
"The Junior Duke Awards really couldn’t have been more positive for us and I’m  happy to see the awards spreading across UAE schools”.

Since our first contact with the Junior Duke Awards team, we’ve discovered many more UAE schools either already hard at work on their Junior Duke Awards or about to begin the programme. Giles Pruett, Executive Principal at Arcadia School is happy that Junior Duke Awards has placed personal growth and service to others high on the agenda at his school. Speaking to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, Mr Pruett told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com;

“The Arcadia Junior Duke programme is a really important initiative for our children, placing personal growth and service to others at the heart of its experience. In our first year, 230 children from our primary campus have enrolled and we expect each student to blossom into potential Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award recipients in the future as they graduate to the International Award in the Secondary School”.

This term, more that 2500 school children across Dubai will embark on their Junior Duke Awards. The list of Dubai schools taking part in the Junior Duke awards so far includes Smart Vision School as well as;

  • Arcadia School
  • Horizon International School and sister school Horizon English School
  • Dubai British School and Dubai British School Jumeirah Park
  • Victory Heights Primary School
  • The Aquila School
  • Jebel Ali School
  • GEMS Founders, GEMS Royal Dubai, GEMS Metropole School and GEMS Wellington School
  • Fairgreen International School
  • Kent College Dubai
  • Brighton College Dubai
  • Jumeirah Primary School
  • Star International School Al Twar
  • Hartland International School

For founder Dawn Waugh, this international spread of what was to be an ‘in-house’ initiative for her own students has been an unexpected pleasure.

“This was something I dreamt up as a project for our school. To see it travel around the world and be adapted to meet the needs of international students is just incredible”.

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