Is The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme of Benefit to Young People?

Is the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme of benefit to young people? This is a direct and challenging question for both participants and providers of this well-known personal development scheme. So how do we try to answer it?

Firstly, let’s look at the award scheme itself.

What does the DofE Award involve?

The DofE award scheme, was set up by the Duke of Edinburgh over 60 years ago. The aim was to encourage young people to take on new experiences and develop themselves into ‘more rounded people’. There are three different levels to attain – bronze, silver and gold and four sections, including expedition planning & completion, getting fitter, helping in the community and developing new skills. At gold level there is an additional section working with a new team of people on a residential trip.

Participants need to be 14 for bronze level, 15 for silver and 16 – 24yrs for the gold level. It is a rigorous, challenging award and hard work, with strong commitment required to complete all levels. Having said that you can just ‘go for gold’ if preferred, which seems to be a popular route today.

Licensed schools, colleges and youth groups run DofE units and the unit leaders assist and oversee participants with their journey through the levels. Approved Activity Providers deliver specific activities and DofE residentials and are assessed to ensure they attain and deliver the activities to the required standard in a safe and appropriate manner.

To quote the DofE themselves:

“Any young person can do their DofE – regardless of ability, gender, background or location. Achieving an Award isn’t a competition or about being first. It’s all about setting personal challenges and pushing personal boundaries.
Through a DofE programme young people have fun, make friends, improve their self-esteem and build confidence. They gain essential skills and attributes for work and life such as resilience, problem-solving, team-working, communication and drive, enhancing CVs and uni and job applications. Top employers recognise the work-ready skills Award holders bring to their business”.

 

 

But then, why are we questioning the resultant benefits?

There has been much in the press and on social media over recent years doubting the relevance the benefits gained. In some cases, a negative view has been projected on these benefits by some further education bodies, indicating that it is more important for the applicant to be engaged with their subject rather than developing soft skills. The University of Cambridge stated ‘We look for strong academic focus…..clear evidence of academic engagement beyond the curriculum, we are not interested in extra-curricular activities except where they may demonstrate relevant skills, such as time management.’ (The Guardian 2015)

It is true that not everyone enjoys their DofE experience. In some it ignites a passion for a new activity which lasts a lifetime, in others it is just seen as a useful stepping stone to achieve a university place or employment. And it isn’t cheap, which is another factor in the family decision as to whether this brings the rewards for such investment and can ultimately decide on signing up or not. Paul Lewis explores these points in a blog entitled ‘Is Doing DofE Gold Worth it to Get Into Uni’ (2019) and concludes that:

‘…do I think that it’s worth doing DofE Gold to develop you as a person?

Yes, absolutely.

DofE makes you engage with people and situations in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise achieve. Emma is volunteering in a Cancer Research UK Charity shop. She is serving customers on the till and interacting with a huge range of people. This has been an amazing experience for her. The Residential was in Liverpool and focused on Lab Skills. Again, a completely new scenario and environment that she was thrust into and overcame. Emma, like me before her, has benefited enormously from the experience of DofE Gold. And, while it probably doesn’t carry as much weight with universities as it used to, I still think it adds value. I also think that DofE Gold helps prepare you for university life, by replicating university experiences. Like going away from home, on your own, and interacting with a group of your peers.

So, if you’ve got the time, and you can afford to do so, I would wholeheartedly recommend DofE Gold. Not for the benefit of a university but for the benefit of you, as a person.’

 

Enhancing young peoples confidence and communication skills

The soft skills enhanced by the DofE experience are highly relevant in helping teenagers cope with the pressures young people are living with today. Peer pressures, social media influences and more recently the issues associated with lifestyle changes enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to damaging effects on mental health and physical wellbeing. Being able to escape for a while into nature on an expedition, without a mobile phone, allows the chance to reset your mind and evaluate priorities. Helping others or the environment during the volunteering section can expand horizons and put specific worries into perspective. Communication and listening skills afford times for sharing and supporting each other through difficulties. Feeling enabled and confident to take control of problems and planning a way out are all positive attributes.

The Health and Wellbeing Report commissioned by the DofE (Sept 2020) A Brighter Future, found:

  1. The DofE has a positive impact on young people’s general wellbeing – respondents noted that they had fun, made new friends, faced new challenges and believed that the DofE improved their education and employment prospects.
  2. The DofE has a positive impact on young people’s confidence and resilience – the survey revealed that many respondents are more confident in difficult situations, had the opportunity to face new challenges and feel more independent and responsible.
  3. The DofE has a positive impact on young people’s communication, teamwork and leadership skills – respondents said they learnt how to work with others to solve problems, felt more confident about speaking to people they do not know well and now understood how to take responsibility for others.

And that’s where I think the answer lies: The benefits to a young person from completing the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, whichever level, are enormous and will help steer them through their adult life. Facing up to personal challenges, acquiring skills to cope with tough situations, time management, leadership, teamwork and communication. These are all necessary qualities for ultimately achieving success. And if the award also helps in their applications for university or employment, then all the better.

 

References:

  1. DofE ‘A Brighter Future’ Heath and Wellbeing Report 2020.
  2. Tales from Paul Lewis Blog Is Gold DofE Worth it to Get into Uni? 2019
  3. The Guardian Article by Tess Reidy Is the DofE Award Really Uni Application Gold? (2015)