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Last year, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards (DofE) for young people entered its 60th year. In all that time it has become phenomenally successful, and has grown to be the world’s leading youth achievement award. Meanwhile, the Duke of Edinburgh, founder and patron of the programme, has, at age 96, announced his retirement from public engagements. Having devoted 70 years of his life to public service as the Queen’s husband and consort, he richly deserves a quieter life. It is widely recognized that the DofE Awards are one of his finest achievements and a potent legacy.
So let’s look into the principles and merits of these eminent awards and, as we do with many of the subjects we cover here at Tomorrow’s World, attempt to place them on a much larger spiritual canvas, informed by the Bible—which is the ultimate textbook of life.
The DofE Awards are based on the principles of the hugely influential German educationalist Kurt Hahn, who incorporated them into the curriculum of Gordonstoun School in Scotland—which Prince Philip attended as a teenager. Hahn was disturbed by what he saw as social decline and the deterioration of teenagers and young adults in areas such as physical fitness, self-discipline and tenacity, compassion and service, initiative and the spirit of adventure, curiosity and imagination.
Therefore, the DofE programme focuses on five complementary elements designed to reverse these areas of decline. They are 1) volunteering; 2) physical development; 3) skill development; 4) undertaking an expedition; and 5) taking part in a five-day residential course.
The award programme takes between one and four years to complete and is staged at three progressive levels; bronze, silver and gold, with around 300,000 participants annually. The Awards have attracted over eight million participants worldwide since their inception. The goal for the UK is to bring one million more young people (14–24 years of age) through the programme by 2021—a goal well on its way to being fulfilled.
The overarching goal of the Awards is to encourage and inspire teens and young adults to achieve their full potential by developing a positive sense of responsibility to themselves and to their communities, by stretching personal boundaries, gaining new skills, developing confidence, and encouraging healthy character development.
The Duke of Edinburgh describes the Awards as “a template to discover what life is like” and at one time, with the candor and directness for which he is known, Prince Philip stated, “Children come into the world completely ignorant, this gives them an idea what life is all about.” His youngest son, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, who is vice-chair of the DofE, describes it as a “Do-it-yourself kit for growing up.”
In the UK, 1,800 organizations help run 13,200 DofE centers. The positive effect is not limited to the young participants. As Prince Edward remarked of his father at the 2016 DofE 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, “Your own concern for the welfare of young people and desire to encourage their development… has helped empower millions of participants, parents, teachers, volunteer organizations, leaders, employers, DofE leaders and mentors.”
The DofE Awards also operate internationally as the Duke of Edinburgh International Award Association in over 140 countries and territories, principally in the former British Commonwealth. The Congressional Awards are the unconnected American equivalent of the DofE Awards, dating from 1979.
What are the benefits of challenging young people in this way? The DofE website sums it up well: “By setting and achieving a series of personal challenges, young people gain confidence, demonstrate commitment, team working and leadership, and learn intangible skills such as resilience and drive that are vital for both work and life. Not only does an award open doors to university and employment, the experience positively influences young people’s mental and physical wellbeing, a welcome support when dealing with the pressures of the day.”
One participant is quoted on the DofE website as saying, “[It] taught me that the challenges and pain you face along the way are only temporary, the success and achievement lasts a lifetime! My DofE programmes have helped mould the person that I am today. I can’t even imagine what I’d be doing today had I not taken part; I wouldn’t have the friendships I’ve made, I wouldn’t have had so much success in employment and I most definitely wouldn’t be as confident as I am today.”
This testimonial is but one of many that recognizes the positive character development and life-long benefits that enable teenagers to transition successfully into adulthood during what are increasingly challenging years in today’s society. The Duke himself says, “The DofE has helped countless young people on their sometimes difficult path to adulthood.”
The DofE Awards at 60 years of age appear to be in exemplary good health, as they successfully pursue their character-building goals of encouraging young people towards a better adult life. But there is a far more significant and far-reaching award programme available for those who have reached adulthood. You could say that God has His “awards program” for all those He is inviting to honour and obey Him. He is its royal patron! These awards are directed by Jesus Christ, to whom God has delegated all executive powers (Matthew 28:18). It is a worldwide, comprehensive spiritual training programme in godly character, of which the traits are those of God Himself—especially godly love and service to others (Matthew 20:25–28).
Just as it takes vision, courage and trust for young people to participate in the DofE Awards, so it takes the same characteristics, and more, to become part of God’s “award programme”. It’s tough and demanding, but the rewards are the godly character that is built and how God then puts that character to His use in a glorious future. Successfully engaging with God’s programme certainly leads to a better life now, but it also goes far beyond that. It leads to eternal life in the Kingdom of God and assisting Jesus Christ when He becomes King over all the earth. “And [You] have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). If you would like to learn more about the incredible reward God has in store for you, and where it all leads, write for our fascinating booklet, Your Ultimate Destiny.