Mon 07 Oct 2019 5 min read

#6 Discovering and exploring Oman: The International Award at BSM

Kai Vacher

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion”

Kurt Hahn

From an early age my parents instilled in me a sense of adventure. When I was 4 years old I was introduced to the joys of hiking in the Lake District. As we started the ascent of Helvellyn I moaned about how my new hiking boots were hurting my feet. I had walked no more than 200 yards when I was ready to give up. My father tempted me with the prospect of frying sausages on our new portable gas stove on the mountain side and I was persuaded to continue. Five hours later and we were on Striding Edge eating burnt sausages while absorbing the magnificent views before me – I had fallen in love with the mountains – a passion that has lasted more than 50 years.

Kai Vacher in the Lake District, UK, as a child

In my early twenties I chose to become a Geography teacher because I wanted to share this love for the outdoors with young people, particularly through field trips and outdoor learning. I was therefore delighted when I arrived at British School Muscat (BSM) eight years ago, that a strong outdoor education programme already existed across the Primary and Senior Schools.

BSM has a unique location with the Al Hajar mountains, Sharqiya Sands, numerous wadis and 1700km of coastline all easily accessible from our school in Muscat. To capitalise on this Geographer’s paradise we run an extensive programme of day and residential trips right across our 3-18 years curriculum including the International Award (IA) from Year 9 upwards. The IA has fostered stronger relationships between students and staff, given our pupils a greater understanding of their physical environment and supported our High Performance Learning ethos.

What is the International Award?

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award (IA) is a prime example of outdoor education working to prepare our students for life beyond the classroom, and is a core component of what makes BSM best for the world. An extension of the Duke of Edinburgh award, the IA was founded in 1956, and today is run in over 144 nations, for anyone aged 14 to 24. We have run the International Award at BSM since 2010, recognising it as a valuable progression of our outdoor education programme. It combines voluntary service, skill development, physical education and an outdoor expedition.

What makes the IA at BSM unique is how we run our outdoor expeditions. We have an incredibly committed team of colleagues who volunteer their time and expertise so that our treks are organised and run entirely by BSM staff. Our staff are highly trained in all the required activities of the programme and they know the mountains well.

Why do we do it?

Our unique location is perfect for the IA outdoor programme. We are lucky to have the wild mountains, beaches and deserts, all well suited to the IA programme, readily available to us.

Not only do we have a unique environment around us but BSM’s staff are able to volunteer their time and knowledge of this environment to run the treks for our students. This means that our IA programme is excellent value for money, encouraging strong levels of student participation: In the 2018-19 academic year, over 50% of our Senior School students chose to participate in our outdoor education programmes.

The IA also compliments BSM’s Learning Ethos. Strategy planning, flexible thinking, resilience, risk taking and collaboration are all characteristics and values of High Performance Learning (HPL), and are all taught by undertaking the IA. There is no better way to learn how to plan a strategy than when you are sitting around a map, deciding your route for the day’s hike, or to learn collaboration than when you have to complete each hike as a team, rather than on your own. We know, having run the IA for 9 years now, that students who take part in the award learn to embody and personify these characteristics, and we can see it clearly translate to the classroom.

“Our success is the very definition of the HPL values and is a vocational flagship of students learning that school is much more than academic grades. Every year, as students progress through the programme, I am impressed by how their levels of independence, leadership and team working skills develop” (Ed Price, International Award co-ordinator at BSM)

What does it do for BSM?

The fact that students are completing the IA programme with teachers and staff they know well (and vice-versa) means that on these treks, the pastoral relationship between teachers and students develops significantly. This translates into deep levels of trust and confidence back in school, making the IA experience all the more enriching for our students.

We can see the academic benefits of the IA programme in the performance of our students at GCSE – in 2018, the students who took part in IA gained, on average, one grade higher in their GCSEs than those who did not. These students are more confident in their learning, and are able to progress in the classroom because they embody the HPL characteristics and values that form our learning ethos at BSM.

Our Head Boy summed up the benefits of the IA when reflecting on his experience of the award:

“My most memorable part of my time at BSM is the IA. It helped me to strengthen my leadership, team-building and organisational skills. My resilience, independence and sense of responsibility also improved.”

Participation in the IA helps BSM to grow students who are ready for life beyond the classroom: global in outlook, adaptable, kind, generous and quietly confident. Having the International Award on a student’s CV helps them significantly when applying to university, and in the world of work beyond that, because it is a world-renowned award, held in high esteem by many universities and employers.

The International Award ensures BSM is best for the world.

The IA extends our outdoor education programme, allowing all our students to recognise and reap the benefits of learning beyond the classroom. It is unique in its ability to foster student-teacher pastoral relationships, and engage our students with the world around them. It compliments our learning ethos, and most importantly, it ensures BSM really is best for the world.

“There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

(Kurt Hahn)