This month, 10 Verdala International School students had the honour of receiving the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award. Alongside San Anton School, Maria Regina College, Aġenzija Zgħazagħ and Malta Girl Guides, we celebrated the tenacity, commitment and resilience of these young people achieving their bronze and silver awards.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is a new partnership for our school that perfectly aligns with our holistic approach to education. Those familiar with the International Baccalaureate will know that service learning is tied to the IB philosophy, as the only sixth-form examination in the world that requires one to pass a service component.
When you look into the background of the award, you find Kurt Hahn, a man who understood education as not being just academic but also about personal growth, believing that if young people were busy, they would thrive.
Hahn worked with Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, to set up what is now a global initiative, as they created the three pillars of the award – physical activity, skill-building and service.
The physical part is achieved by learning or enhancing a new sport and logging the progress made. The service component is achieved by volunteering; our students offered time at the animal sanctuary, running language lessons, regular beach clean-ups, or cooking for elderly people.
Supporting others, helping people and giving time is proven to make us fundamentally happier
The adventurous journey is probably the hardest part, as it takes them out of their comfort zone. Bronze award students prepare for a two-day hike with 15 to 20kg backpacks, while silver students face a three-day hike. They must plan the route, carry all their own food and gear, whilst independently finding their way. This may not seem peculiar to some, however, for many young people this is a new experience, especially when they are not allowed to take mobile phones with them.
The October 12 ceremony was a true highlight that demonstrated how the Duke of Edinburgh scheme programme is differentiated to include any kind of student – disabled, neuro-diverse or perhaps just someone trying to do something a bit different. They don’t necessarily start off full of enthusiasm and it feels like hard work at first, with lots of pieces to complete and it takes effort. However, invariably they all come out the other side with a real sense of pride.
Panel interviews gave the audience an opportunity to hear about the different personal mountains climbed; the students shared about the skills they learnt and the challenges they faced.
As education minister Clifton Grima pointed out in his closing speech, “education... doesn’t have to come in the form of academics, it is about learning” – learning something new, learning about oneself and growing within that learning.
At VIS, the concept of service learning is implemented throughout our school. Through our ‘Reach Out to Help Out’ month in November, both elementary and secondary students will be reflecting on times when they have served others and how it made them feel.
Scientific research is full of examples that altruism helps us all feel better. Supporting others, helping people and giving time is proven to make us fundamentally happier. Guiding young people to connect to areas where action can be taken is part of our curriculum and co-curricular programme, as we strive to instil the concept of caring beyond oneself.
This can be a challenge, as not every teenager wants to help and get involved. They are naturally busy working on their own identity, which can be a selfish pathway, so offering initiatives to participate opens the door.
During our ‘Reach Out to Help Out’ month, we aim to focus on the learner outcomes of advocacy, lifestyle changes, social entrepreneurship, and social justice to give them a sense of purpose. Our students will – collectively in the lower age groups, and individually in the higher age groups – identify causes they will take action on for the remainder of the academic year.
In a world where so much feels out of control and may cause disillusionment, helping young people feel they are making a difference can give them both confidence and hope. And we strive to help them see that, as Kurt Hahn says, “there is more in you than you think”.