In the name of the Duke

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award and its importance for young people

For Nick Chaddock, a student’s ‘soft skills’ are just as important as academic achievement as they prepare for their future. He also thinks that the Duke of Edinburgh’s  International Award has had a profound impact on both.

A time to reflect

It’s January and all the UK uni applications are done and others being completed. Every last drop out of an individual’s precious time at school has been condensed to impress, and for those of us tasked with assisting university applications it is a time to reflect, as we prepare to support the next cohort of uni-bound hopefuls. I have long come to the conclusion that the non-academic achievements are just as important as scholarly prowess. The fact is, nearly everybody is armed with wonderful predicted grades, and, increasingly, universities are looking for other predictors of success.

The importance of “soft skills”

Now more than ever, the so-called ‘soft skills’ or ‘life skills’, are vital to the success and well-being of every single pupil we teach. Consequently, now more than ever the Duke of Edinburgh International Award in all its guises is as relevant now as it was when it was first set up in 1956.

Growing evidence

Thankfully there is growing evidence to suggest that developing life skills should have equal billing with academic and sporting achievement in all our schools. The World Economic Forum suggests that social intelligence is now a greater indicator of life success than academic achievement. Of course, what defines ‘life success’ is extremely debatable, but experience and intuition suggests this is right.

A changing world

The world has changed. Parenting has changed. For better or for worse, it does not matter. What matters is that we do everything we can to arm our pupils with the life skills to cope with human interaction and relationships that will enable them to manage their time, health and well-being. I believe the International Award supports this, and that participation can also make a huge difference to impressing university admissions teams – and for all the right reasons.


I have set up and led the International Award in two premium schools in Asia with the support of dedicated staff and leadership teams. The Bronze and Silver International Awards are fine preparation for CAS in IB schools and in A-level schools the opportunity to take the Award through to Gold is even greater. I have found that getting the support of leadership and setting up the Award is easily done. The main challenges are twofold: developing a programme that is both exciting and helps develop all the life skills our pupils need, and persuading the parents that time invested in a programme like the Award is time well spent.

Convincing parents

When addressing parents who might be sceptical about a programme that could be perceived as a distraction from academic study, we must cover all the potential benefits explicitly. In a multicultural international school, to presume parents understand, believe and think the same as you is a classic mistake. Our ethos and teaching philosophies will undoubtedly mirror that of the schools we work in, but that does not mean to say all parents understand or believe the same things. We must be explicit in our aims.

Learning outside the classroom

I believe that in Asia the academic benefits of the Award must be magnified. The Award management team are currently putting together data on the benefits of having an Award certificate by highlighting all the colleges and universities that recognise the Award as part of an application. At most university interviews our pupils will get asked, ‘what have you done outside the classroom?’.

To begin the answer with the Award is a great start. Neuroscience also tells us that outdoor activity and exercise not only boosts memory, thinking skills and well-being, it actually increases grey matter in the brain’s frontal and temporal regions which are important for executive function and learning.


The importance of direct experience

It is easy for us to see the links between the Award and the curriculum but we must make efforts to emphasise them. These links are mathematical, linguistic, scientific and geographical. We teach our pupils about the environment and encourage them to “save” it, but humans will not “save” something they do not love. The Award is a way of reconnecting our urbanised youth with the beauty of their countryside and reinforcing learning from the classroom. We have to move away from pure knowledge retention and link knowledge with practical skills and real-life experiences because it is life skills that our pupils ultimately need.

Dropping out and worse

Unfortunately, some of the Asian countries we teach in top the charts in both college and university dropout rates and, more poignantly, suicide rates in young people. These are sad statistics, but schools recognise these issues and are in the process of addressing them. Moreover, there is a global demand for young people with critical thinking skills, creativity, emotional intelligence, resilience, adaptability, good judgement and decision-making, a service orientation mindset, the ability to work in a team and have excellent communication and negotiation skills. The Award helps to develop all of these skills.

Vietnam challenge

Some time ago, a Silver Award trip I organised in Vietnam involved the design and building of bamboo rafts, sailing them across Vietnam’s largest reservoir, followed by a hike through dense jungle. The physical and mental challenges of doing this in June in Vietnam were colossal. I have every confidence that not a single member of that Silver trip will be dropping out of the university courses they are currently undertaking.

Full circle

And when the time comes around again in 2019 to write university applications young people must have as much to say about what they have done and experienced building up life skills outside the classroom as they have about their academic grades. The Duke of Edinburgh International Award is a good place for any school to start them on this pathway.

Nick Chaddock

Nick is from York in the UK, and currently works at North London Collegiate School on Jeju island in South Korea. Specialising in second language pedagogy and the acquisition of academic English, he is committed to outdoor education and extra-curricular programmes as an essential part of learning.



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