Before Covid-19, we were in the midst of a mental health crisis amongst young people. A greater reliance on technology, academic pressures, the distractions of social media and the hectic pace of the way we live today, have all been identified as factors
In response, in early 2019 the government announced it was prioritising Character Education in schools and guidance was issued in November. It was also added to the Ofsted inspection framework – an incredible leap forward in redressing the balance between the importance of academic achievement and the personal development of students. As a result, schools are now evaluated on the overall ‘quality of education’ provided and inspectors make a judgement on the personal development of learners, evaluating: ‘the curriculum and the provider’s wider work to support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physical and mentally healthy.”
As ardent advocates of the importance of character development, this was fantastic news. Then came the pandemic…
Following lockdown, early signs show that young people’s mental health has been negatively affected. According to studies by the University of Sheffield and Ulster
University, up to half of young people feel significantly more anxious than before lockdown. The Children’s Society has also found that “There are currently one in eight children aged 5-19 in England who have a diagnosable mental health condition. COVID-19 may result in heightened feelings of anxiety and worry and could exacerbate low mood and other mental health conditions.”
These are concerning, if unsurprising, statistics, given that students have been denied social interaction, physical activity, access to organised groups, contact with wider family etc. Afterall, these are all contributors to a person’s general wellbeing.
When students returned to school earlier this month, there was (understandably) an emphasis on academic learning – catching up on what they’ve missed. However,
it’s equally (if not more) important that personal development continues to share the spotlight. At no other time in our history has a global generation of young people
been hit by a crisis of this magnitude. We must therefore be ready to provide opportunities and support to enable them to build their confidence, strengthen their resilience and gain independence.
An overseas expedition programme is character education tied up in one, exhilarating package. Participants don’t just pick up character education by osmosis, they actively take charge of their own personal development, which in turn enriches and maximises the learning outcomes for them.
In 2019, Outlook took this another step further by partnering with world renowned leadership programme ‘Leader in Me’ based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. All expedition participants now graduate from the programme with positive habits and behaviours – and a certification - that they can transfer to their future academic or professional careers as well as their relationships.
“Purely intellectual development without commensurate internal character development makes as much sense as putting a high-powered sports car in the hands of a teenager who is high on drugs. Yet all too often in the academic world, that’s exactly what we do by not focusing on the character development of young people.” — Steven Covey
In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals aimed at finding sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges – ranging from poverty and gender to climate change and inequality.
Since then, momentum has been building and a lot of progress has been made. However, in September 2019 it was identified that overall, action to meet the Goals had not been advancing at the speed or scale required. So, a ‘Decade of Action’ was declared to prompt even more ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030.
The ‘Decade of Action’ calls for all sectors of society to mobilize on three levels:
1. Global action – greater leaders, more resources, smarter solutions
2. Local action – policies, budgets, regulatory frameworks of local government
3. People action – including by youth, civil society, media, private sector, unions,
academia and other stakeholders
Read more about SDG progress in their 2019 Report.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the progress of all 17 Goals and has shown that what began as a health crisis has quickly become a human and socioeconomic crisis. It also makes their achievement all the more urgent and necessary and it’s essential that recent gains are protected. The crisis also presents an opportunity for the human family to act in solidarity and turn this crisis into an impetus to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the hugely important aspects of expeditions is learning to become a global citizen – someone who is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it. A global citizen also takes an active role in their community and works with others to make the planet more equal, fair and sustainable.
During the expedition journey, students learn about the challenges that people face in other parts of the world today and what can be done now to create sustainable change for the future. They see first-hand, whilst working on environmental, community and conservation initiatives, how lots of small actions can add up to achieve big things.
Through movements such as the SDGs and activists such as Greta Thunberg, young people today are more attuned to the world’s big issues than perhaps any other generation before them. Whilst Covid rumbles on, we mustn’t let the tide of change turn backwards.
“Working from home” and “Home Schooling” are similar to Marmite it seems. You either love it or hate it.
But after months of battling for space on the kitchen table and stretching the WIFI bandwidth to its limits with concurrent Teams calls an online lessons, the initial lure of working in pyjamas has worn a bit thin.
It’s one thing for adults to conduct their entire professional working day or week online. They’ve mastered the tools required to manage their workload and honed their interpersonal tools to work with others effectively – even it is now done through a screen. Self-discipline still takes work but adults understand the consequences if they spend too much time cleaning/watching Netflix and not enough time working on the report that’s due tomorrow.
Young people are still learning and developing these skills and need reassurance and guidance to help them along the way.
Before Covid hit, there was already wide concern over the effects of young people spending too much time online and not enough time in the real world. Even if what they are engaging with online is school work, there is a real danger that the development of vital life skills; communication, team work, humility, empathy, gratitude and compassion, is stunted if too much time is spent in virtual reality.
We all knew how important it was to get outside for our allowed ‘once a day’ exercise during lockdown. Whether you used it for actual exercise, maybe a run or a cycle – or just to remind yourself that there was still a world outside of your four walls – it helped to you keep you connected, balanced and sane.
The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom believes that every child should be given the opportunity to experience life and lessons beyond the classroom walls as a regular part of growing up. These experiences expand the horizons of young people, opening their eyes to the wonders of art, heritage, culture, adventure and the natural world.
Adventurous overseas travel is the ultimate learning outside the classroom experience. Learning is accelerated, personal development is super-charged and eyes are opened to the realisation of what can be achieved.
Whilst a global pandemic obviously brings with it challenges around overseas travel, this won’t be the case forever. We mustn’t allow it to make their world smaller in the long term.
“Life lessons are learned by having a go. With all of us – but particularly young people – spending more and more time online, we should all put our phones down, look up and get involved in activities that stretch and challenge us.” Damian Hinds, Education Secretary
Resilience is defined as the “capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” – it could also be described as mental strength or toughness, something that we have all had to reach for in recent times.
In terms of character education, the Department for Education uses four qualities (or inner resources) to describe character and resilience;
No matter how academically gifted someone is, if they lack these qualities they are unlikely to succeed as they are more likely to suffer from low self esteem and get overwhelmed when curve balls are thrown their way.
Mental Health charity, Mind, describes resilience as “not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing”.
Outdoor, adventurous activities that combine physical and mental challenge in a controlled and constructive way, enable young people to build layers of emotional resilience.
Research has shown that non-cognitive skills in general play a key role in determining academic outcomes. Character and resilience are crucial not only in improving academic performance, but longer terms health outcomes and future employment prospects. Character and resilience are also fundamental factors in reducing the chances of participating in risky behaviours.” [ADEPIS Report (March 2015) ‘Building Resilience and Character in young people’]
Links have also been identified between resilience and health with resilient people being more able to deal with adversities and experiencing;
[Public Health England – Building Children and Young People’s Resilience in Schools]
So, it seems resilience really is the super power that we need to instil in our young people. It’s a weapon and a coat of protective armour, that helps us to cope with stress and adversity, bolster self-belief and improve overall wellbeing.
If getting your first step on the career ladder wasn’t challenging enough, Graduates now face a difficult job market in the post COVID world.
Previous historic events such as the Great Depression and the financial crisis of 2008, show that the impact of recession damages employment prospects for those entering the job market. So, competition is expected to be fierce for jobs and internships over the next couple of years as general unemployment rates rise.
In this historic moment, we must all keep looking forward and accept that we have to be lifelong learners. Equipping young people with an armoury of additional skills, character traits and positive habits that enable them to keep developing themselves independently, is the key.
Outlook’s partnership with world renowned leadership programme Leader in Me, helps to do just that. Embedded into the expedition journey, participants learn and practise the ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ using them to tackle the real life, challenging scenarios, that expeditions throw their way. They then graduate from the programme with a framework that they can transfer to their academic, professional lives as well as personal relationships.
Work is already underway with universities, businesses and government coming together to set out a roadmap of support for graduates. However, as outlined in this document, if we help young people to build character and resilience and give them the tools to take ownership of their own development, they will be in an excellent position to face the challenges that await them.