Since its launch in 1956, The Duke of Edinburgh's Award spread to more than 140 different countries, including Singapore. Participation in the Award has inspired generations of young people around the world to make a positive impact on their own lives and the wider community. Its exponential growth, and the way it has equipped and empowered young people across communities, is truly remarkable – and an enduring legacy of its founder and patron, the Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away on Friday.
Wherever you are in the world, the Award is structured through participation in the same four sections. Those are: service; developing new skills; physical recreation; participating in an adventurous journey (expedition or exploration); and, for Gold, working with a team on a residential activity.
The essential features of the Award are that it is optional, accessible to anyone who wants to participate, and that the participants progress at their own pace. Teachers and supervisors therefore need to tread a careful balance between offering encouragement and support while allowing the students' independence. A little over three years ago, Tanglin began to move away from the Singaporean version (National Youth Achievement Award or NYAA) and towards full participation in The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award, mainly to provide students who wish to take part with a more rigorous, challenging and internationally recognised experience.
It has been very impressive to see the enthusiastic response this year with over 120 students participating in their Bronze Award expeditions last term, and a highly motivated group of Silver and Gold students completing expeditions here in Singapore during the Easter holidays. Due to the pandemic we are currently unable to camp out overnight, but we have found it possible to enjoy challenging experiences together through a series of carefully curated day trips.
Although all four sections are equally important for a successful Award experience, it is often the adventurous journey that draws the most attention; where students are required to plan and undertake a suitably challenging 'human-powered' expedition with a clearly defined purpose. Here at Tanglin, the Outdoor Education Department has always been closely involved in these expeditions: whether through introducing some of the key expedition skills and values on our Year 9 and Year 10 residentials and expeditions to India, Thailand and Vietnam; or through providing a pinnacle wilderness experience such as the incredible Year 10 'Rite of Passage' expeditions with Outward Bound Australia.
This year our expeditions have been confined to Singapore, where opportunities to experience true wilderness are limited, nonetheless we have found creative ways to make the most of what we have in this diverse garden city. Singapore has the advantage of being a relatively predictable environment, with smooth public transport to access the expedition locations, and to monitor students as they make their way independently about the island.
The best way to experience Singapore's wild places is from the sea, by kayak or canoe and so, during the Easter holidays, a hardy group of Year 12 and 13 students took part in a gruelling three-day Sea Kayaking practice expedition around the northern and eastern shores of Singapore.
Following an intense planning session the week prior, where students devised their own kit list, menu plans and objectives for the expedition, the three expedition groups met at dawn on a wet and windy morning. Their first task was to ready their kayaks, repack their kit into waterproof bags, and modify their route to accommodate the shifting weather conditions.
The majority of the group was new to kayaking, with the coordination of paddling in pairs, maintaining a straight line and navigating the currents, testing their teamwork from the off. But after just one day the progress was exceptional, with early frustrations morphing into fantastic support and camaraderie. On Day 2, paddling skills continued to improve, and they tested their campcraft and expedition cooking, with some incredible meals prepared. Day 3 – the most challenging in terms of distance and tidal currents (and with tired arms!) – was a privilege to witness. Each group worked together and supported one another to navigate across the busy Singapore waters to Pulau Ubin and back, demonstrating great tenacity and determination to complete the journey.
The students have set themselves up well to plan and execute their qualifying expedition at the end of June. Their positive attitude, resilience and determination truly reflect the spirit of the Award – a fitting tribute to HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.