Prince’s plea to remember vital non-academic schemes in rush to catch-up schooling

Prince Edward has opened up about how his own experiences as a dad during the pandemic have highlighted the vital importance of schemes like the Duke of Edinburgh programme, set up by his father 65 years ago.

Prince Philip‘s youngest son told Sky News that projects such as the DofE awards for young people are “more important at this present time than ever before”.

His comments come as those behind the project warned that when schools re-open, the rush for pupils to catch up academically should not come at the expense of extra-curricular activities.

The Earl of Wessex has been involved with the award scheme in the UK and overseas for 30 years.

Asked if he was concerned about the push for young people to catch up with their studies when they return to school on 8 March, he said: “We mind desperately about trying to help them catch up with their academic career, but at the end of the day we’re talking about what can we give young people at this time that’s really going to help them in the future – and how are they going to be ready for the world. And that’s not just about academics.

“I think the role of the non-formal in this present climate is going to be even more important than ever before because it’s those skills and experiences which are going to be looked for.”

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More than 295,000 young people started their DofE in 2019-20, a quarter of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds

Research carried out by the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme found more than 70% of DofE participants felt extracurricular activities were being pushed out and cut back because of academic pressures due to COVID.

But almost half felt extracurricular activities were giving them a positive focus during the pandemic.

Campaigners are growing increasingly concerned about the mental health impact on young people of home schooling and lockdown.

The earl who has two teenage children, Louise who is 17 and James who is 13, said they had been “chalk and cheese” when it came to home-schooling.

He said “The eldest one Louise, she had her GCSEs interrupted last year, so we went through that whole pain of just having all of that suddenly taken away and so she sort of struggles a bit with the online learning because she’d much prefer to be with everyone…

“My younger one frankly thinks being at home and online is fantastic.

“I have to say half term came at just the right time because it was very interesting the frustrations that were beginning to show – and I reckon we weren’t the only family to have experienced that.

“I count our blessings that we’re lucky where we are.”

Prince Edward said it was important that young people have something to aim for.

“For so many, their academic careers have been completely disrupted and thrown into chaos.

“All those who lost their exams – all the things that they’d been working towards – had gone and the longer-term impact is going to be immense.”

More than 295,000 young people started their DofE in 2019-20, a quarter of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds or circumstances, with many taking part in volunteering programmes in their local communities to work towards their award goals, including making masks, helping elderly neighbours or producing food.

Sky News met up with Alina and Lily who have been helping with projects like a local foodbank in Newham in London, the third most deprived borough in the UK.

They said doing the award had been vital for their mental health.

Lily said “it was a great experience; I loved every minute of it, and I’d love to do it again.

“I met new people and did things I never thought I’d be doing; it gave me a great opportunity to see what life is really like and give back to the community.”

Alina said: “DofE has really helped me with my mental wellbeing, it’s kept me happy…..it’s really fun to do.”

The Duke of Edinburgh international award and five other global youth charities are now working with the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Foundation to harness the enthusiasm young people have shown for volunteering during the pandemic.

The Global Youth Mobilization for Generation Disrupted initiative will invest in and help scale-up youth-led solutions and youth engagement.

Prince Edward said: “We know that if you give young people those challenges, that they do respond positively and they will come up with the ideas.

“They will come up with the innovation and the imagination to see us through – and that’s the really positive thing about it.”

The Duke of Edinburgh set up the award scheme for young people in 1956. Since then it is estimated around eight million people around the world have participated in the programme.

Yesterday Prince Edward confirmed to Sky News that his father, who is currently in hospital, was “a lot better” and “looking forward to getting out”.

It came as the palace confirmed that Prince Philip was being treated for an infection and wouldn’t be leaving hospital for several days.