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For a school whose motto is ‘difficulties do not dismay us’ it is perhaps not surprising that a programme that encourages young people to build up their leadership, self-confidence, and teamwork skills has been an important part of the curriculum for 30 years.
St Andrew’s College in South Africa’s East Cape was the first school in the country to adopt The President’s Award, then known as the Gold Shield, before being renamed in 1994 to reflect the backing of President Nelson Mandela.
The Award, also known internationally as The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, is a non-formal education framework that helps young people aged 14-24 to find their purpose, passion and place in the world, irrespective of circumstance.
There are currently more than 55,000 active participants in schools around South Africa, with more than 1 million young people taking part around the world - some at Cambridge International schools.
St Andrew’s is a boys’ boarding school that is home to 450 pupils from around the world, and working towards the Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels of the President’s Award helps build valuable ‘soft’ or ‘universal’ skills and puts them in touch with the local community.
Award Leader and the school’s Head of Geography Mandy Ladds is clear about the continuing benefits to her pupils of taking part in the scheme.
'Boys that complete the Award are provided the opportunity to help others through the Voluntary Service and Gold Residential Project sections of the Award,’ says Mandy. ‘Some boys participated in a residential project in Cradock in Eastern Cape, and they helped at a local shelter and cooked and served food for four days. This was a humbling experience for many as they were exposed to people that are not guaranteed a meal a day.'
Each level of the Award is aimed at slightly different age groups, starting with Bronze for those over 14-years-old, through Silver, and up to Gold for those aged 16 and up. Within that there are four sections for each level – Voluntary Service, Adventurous Journey, Skills, and Physical Recreation – plus an additional five-day Gold Residential Project.
Activities can be very diverse, including things like animal care, gardening, fundraising, performing music or singing, public speaking, playing sports or performing dance, and hiking, canoeing, or cycling.
This means that the Award can be adapted to any young person’s interests. The flexible nature of the Award helps St Andrew’s to offer the programme as part of their extra-curricular activities.
'The programme is available for the boys and they sign up and meet the requirements at their own pace and initiative,' says Mandy.
'Boys that enrol in the Award programme gain independence, and growth from all the areas they have to fulfil: self-confidence, humility in helping others, compassion, and endurance for the hikes and sport component. I enjoy seeing the boys through the Award and their growth as they move from Bronze to Gold levels.'
Working through challenges is part of the ethos at St Andrew’s, and The President’s Award is the proof of their success.
We asked two Gold Award Holders from St Andrew's College to tell us about their experiences.
Jordan van de Meulen said: 'I have learnt so much about the world outside of the small area in which I live. I have learnt to communicate properly, manage my time, and, most importantly, I have learnt how some people live their lives on a day to day basis. Now a goal of mine is to improve the standard of living of all those who are less fortunate, and to help with education and facilities for self-improvement. I have encouraged many people to join the Award so that they also see the joy in helping others.'
Duncan Meldrum said: 'It is an opportunity to discover things about yourself, to learn new skills and to meet new people, and taking part brought me a feeling of fulfilment. I helped organise various events and sat on various committees. I have helped coach children in football, taught maths, and cleaned streets. My Voluntary Service leadership has developed as well as my organisational skills.'