Duke of Edinburgh’s Award: More relevant than ever

Written by: Martin Myers-Allen | Published:
Key skills: Framlingham College students taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition (image: supplied)

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh has shone a spotlight on the legacy of the award that bears his name. Martin Myers-Allen – who has overseen 6,000 students through the award – says it is more relevant today than ever before

During a very difficult year, pupils have had fewer opportunities to meet with friends, practise new skills and enjoy group activities.

While the circumstances associated with the coronavirus may be unique, the difficulties of growing up, becoming a part of your community, and overcoming physical and mental challenges have always existed and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was established to empower pupils to overcome them.

Originally billed as a “do-it-yourself growing up kit”, the activities involved in the award are worth more than the sum of their parts. As I have witnessed thousands of times, they deliver incredible results.

The continuing success of the inspirational youth organisation is a perfect way to remember Prince Philip, and in a world capable of such rapid, unexpected change, the 65-year-old award is more relevant today than ever.

Preparing for a changing world

I believe this because the award teaches timeless, fundamental life-skills from a pre-internet age. It reminds pupils of the world beyond the screen and encourages them to challenge themselves through activities they may otherwise never have undertaken.

Recent media discussion has emphasised the value of so-called “geriatric millennials” (because they bridge the pre-internet and internet ages and therefore bring a unique blend of skills into the workplace). Well, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award places Generation Z in time-tested offline environments such as the sports field and the unknown terrain of the expedition.

In these environments, pupils are presented with real challenges – such as determining how to safely cross a river, or how to handle customers in a charity shop – rather than the often-hypothetical challenges in a classroom or digital environment. The award compels them to work with their peers, build relationships and create a plan to solve the issues they face. The award also places pupils in a position of reliance on their peers – including those of different genders, races, sexualities, and other groups – where they can develop mutual respect.

Given the well-publicised global societal challenges of loneliness among young people, online harassment, racism, toxic masculinity and widespread sexual misconduct, this opportunity is incredibly valuable. The award gives pupils a chance to break stereotypes and prove that everybody is equally capable of overcoming adversity.

In addition to providing valuable peer experiences, the award can also be an effective toolkit for tackling mental health issues. Away from the perpetual hubbub of teenage life, especially in its modern day online manifestation, the award provides pupils a chance to gain a broader perspective, develop their confidence and learn strategies for coping with challenges.

The skills of collaboration, negotiation, problem-solving, leadership and resilience that the award emphasises have always been relevant, but they are even more relevant today in a world where individuals are asked to take on larger challenges from a younger age.

The award certainly provides pupils with compelling answers to job interview questions for a competitive employment environment, but more importantly it provides them with the confidence to take on the day’s challenges. In a world which, as we have recently been reminded, is prone to swift and unanticipated change, these skills are the best possible preparation to lead a successful life.

A worthy legacy

Setting up a school to administer the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is simple and worthwhile. If your school is already licensed, I would recommend that the team make a concerted push to spread the word about the award and make this year’s intake the biggest yet.

I have overseen more than 6,000 young people as they complete the award, and we believe it is such an important experience that we include the Bronze Award on the timetable for all year 9 pupils at Framlingham College.

We believe that education is about more than just studying for exams, it is about being prepared to succeed as global citizens in a complex and changing world. In my opinion, there are few extra-curricular programmes that provide broader or more effective preparation for this than the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

Pupils who achieve the Gold Award were always invited to meet the Duke of Edinburgh himself and, as the coordinator, I have had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions. His constant enthusiasm and passion for empowering young people made a lasting impression on me, and while his personal leadership will be sorely missed, we can all be grateful for the continuation of the award that bears his name.

  • Martin Myers-Allen is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award director at Framlingham College in Suffolk. To learn more about how to administer the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, contact your local office via www.dofe.org/run/getinvolved


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