What is Scouting?
A Movement of Self-Education for Young People
Scouting is defined as a system of progressive self-education for young people. The Scout Movement comprises national Scout organisations to which the individual members belong. The individual members are the young people that Scouting serves and adults who join in order to contribute to the development of Scouting’s youth members. The unity of the Movement is ensured by the World Organization of the Scout Movement which serves recognised national Scout organisations.
All over the world, members of the World Organization of the Scout Movement are united by a common, active commitment to Scouting’s purpose which is to help young people to develop their full physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual capacities as individuals and as members of society, and thus contribute to the development of a better world.
Wherever they may be, members are actively committed to the principles (i.e. the values) on which Scouting is founded, which form both the basis of the code of ethics which governs the Movement as a whole and a personal code of living to which each member adheres. These principles are about a person’s active and constructive commitment to the spiritual values of life, to society and to oneself.
All members are equally committed to the way in which Scouting seeks to help young people to develop – through Scouting’s unique method of progressive self-education. The Scout Method is a comprehensive educational framework composed of elements which work together as a system to provide young people with a rich and active learning environment. It is based on how young people naturally develop, taking into account their evolving characteristics, needs and interests at different stages of development.
Together, Scouting’s purpose, principles and method form the essence of Scouting’s educational system, i.e. they are the foundation on which Scouting is based all over the world. In order for the Movement to achieve its educational goals, the Movement as a whole must provide the global conditions for this to happen. Thus the Scout Movement is also characterised by the fact that it is:
A movement for young people, especially suited for adolescents
Scouting exists for the benefit of young people. While Scouting’s educational system is particularly suited for the adolescent age range, the upper age limit depends on factors which define what “youth” means from an educational perspective within a particular culture and society.
In general terms, the upper age limit would normally correspond to a general level of maturity at which a person no longer needs Scouting’s structured educational approach in order to continue the process of self-education.
The lower limit corresponds to a minimum level of maturity required for Scouting’s educational system to function and thus for young people to benefit from it. Evidently, these levels of maturity can only approximately be measured by age, but would normally correspond to a few years either side of the second decade of life.
A movement of young people, supported by adults
The young people in the Movement are supported by adults, whose role is to facilitate and provide the necessary conditions for the development of the youth members. As members of a movement of self-education, and in a spirit of partnership with adults, young people participate in the decision-making processes of the Movement, in ways which are appropriate to their level of maturity, skills and experience, so as to ensure the relevance of what Scouting offers to them.
Open to all
Membership of the Scout Movement is open to anyone who agrees to adhere to its educational proposal (i.e. its purpose, principles and method); in other words it does not discriminate against anyone because of his or her religion, ethnic origin, social background or gender.
Scouting is voluntary. All members – young people and supporting adults – join of their own free will. There is no compulsion to join the Scout Movement, nor to remain a member. Scouting is not like school, at which attendance is usually compulsory between certain ages.
Every member – young or adult – who does choose to join is required to make a personal commitment to the Scout Movement. First and foremost, this commitment is to respect and act according to the code of ethics inherent in the fundamental principles of the Movement.
More globally, this voluntary commitment also extends to achieving the educational purpose of Scouting, as every member commits him or herself to the educational proposal of the national Scout association to which he or she belongs. For youth members, this commitment concerns their own personal development. For adults, this commitment is to help provide the conditions necessary for young people to develop.
Scouting is non-political, in the sense that it is not involved in the struggle for power of party politics. At the same time, Scouting’s educational system aims to help young people to be, and develop as, responsible and constructive individuals and members of society. Young people cannot do so in a vacuum, divorced from the socio-political realities of the world in which they live.
Scouting’s educational approach, therefore, encourages young people to develop their own powers of judgment, and to take an active and constructive role in society which is in harmony with the values for which Scouting stands.
While the Movement works in partnership with a number of outside bodies and receives support from benefactors all over the world, Scouting, at all levels, is independent in the sense of being free from control by any outside body or individual.
Complementary to other forms of education
Scouting is a non-formal educational movement. In other words, it is not part of the formal educational system (school, etc.), nor is it informal (friends, media, etc.) as it does offer a structured approach to education. Scouting does not seek to reproduce what school, family, religious institutions, leisure clubs, etc., are already offering young people. It seeks to complement what others are doing by helping to fill gaps that may not be being met by others.
Relevant to young people
Scouting seeks to be relevant to young people in the various socio-cultural environments in which they grow up, and to continuously adjust to meet the needs of young people in a rapidly changing world.
As a movement, this is one of our greatest challenges: continuously adjusting so as to be even more relevant to young people’s aspirations and needs while remaining faithful to Scouting’s purpose, principles and method.
Being able to determine what is essential and invariable from what is not essential and variable is not easy for newly constituted Scout associations who are considering this issue for the first time. The task is not an easy one either for Scout associations that have existed for decades, some for almost a century, steeped in rich memories of “the way things have always been done”.