Sunday, 6 December 2015

Young students can be great organisers of debate competitions!

The Heritage School Debsoc Debate
It was almost without  much thought that I agreed to two rather enthusiastic boys from the tenth grade request to  be their teacher advisor for the debating society. After that it was about accommodating the students and society members into the existing stay back.  All this while the two boys kept working hard, and yes I gave them lee way since they were doing good work. At first it was all about getting the club members together after school, then it was about setting down ground rules, having impromptu debates and so on. Ten came the invitation at the Vasant Valley school, and of course I had to accompany the selected team members to the school on the second day. At Vasant Valley we had managed to reach the prelims and there we were facing some of the most formidable teams from all across the country. We managed to get on to the next level and then that’s it - we couldn’t get past a team that was representing a well known school from Dehradun. We returned disappointed to school and then the two stalwarts came up with the idea of appointing office bearers and then they came up with a plan for promoting formal debating as a culture and to take the debating society to the next level – perhaps to the extent of hosting  other schools. But before we could do so, we would have to expose our own students to the parliamentary style of debating.
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The two boys came up with one proposal after another, which our program leader scrutinised with a magnifying glass, suggesting improvements that were incorporated by the two boys. All this time I was involved with completing the syllabus for my grade twelve students, and taking on the workload of a teacher who had left all of a sudden in the middle of the session, besides those of putting up the agenda, supervising and setting schedules that are part of my duties as a coordinator. I just did not have enough spare time for the debating society, and yet these boys from grade ten, and now with some support from the office bearers drew up the plans for an intra-school debate competition  slated for the fifth of December. Time flew and it was on the third or fourth of December that I finally drew a checklist for the penultimate day. The program leader was wholly with us and when we were able to get only two judges out of the four we needed, he stepped in and got us two more. The Program Leader was a constant support for the society, he stood firmly behind us, and yes, the logistics in charge ensured that everything got done, whether it was the food, the booking of the venue, and a sundry other things.

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On the fifth of December, the members of the organising committee reached school on a non-working Saturday at a quarter to seven on a cold morning. Immediately they set to work registering students for the event, then we proceeded to the venue for  instructions regarding venues and teams. Somehow everyone had reached well in time, and so we were before time. Rules and regulations were given to the students, and then there was a slight apprehension as we waited for the other two judges to arrive. And then they did, to our relief, and then the Program Leader addressed the gathering and then it was time for an Exhibition Debate. The team wanted the Exhibition Debate to be “perfect” and they surely tried to do their best, although their voices cracked under strain – they did a fair enough job.

We had fourteen teams out of 53 students. The ideal number of students in each team was to have been 4, but then a few did not turn up so a few teams had only three members, but then we did not disqualify them and allowed them to continue although one of them would have to speak twice. The first few rounds  brought out a lot of weaknesses, which the judges and the moderators addressed through feedback and suggestions. When we got back after lunch, we could see that the teams that had survived had become more polished, and they had got their points together. Finally it seemed they had learned their lessons, that debating is not just about having a good command over vocabulary, but it is also about being rational, logical, and having all the points in hand. One thing became clear to me, and that was that my apprehensions about the impact of the MUN Culture of debating were true, and those who had done very well in MUN Debates were left high and dry in the Parliamentary style of debating.
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It was disappointing to see how many of the students could speak for only fifty seconds out of the two minutes allotted to them. A few were able to speak for the whole two minutes, but were afraid of finishing their time limit, so they did not support their arguments with sufficient proof, fact and figures although they had known them very well. What was surprising and pleasing was to see that a large number of participants were from grade 8! A large number of these grade 8 students spoke very well too. I guess one of the important lessons  for building a debating culture in school is to catch potential debaters early in life, grade 8, or even 7 if possible.
By the end of the day we had some of the best teams show an amazing improvement in their performance. They had learned their lessons and worked on the feedback given to them. It was amazing to see how the mumbles, and stammers of the initial moments had changed into confident voices with the required voice modulation and intonation. The replies were more logical, the arguments more to the point, and participants stuck to time lines better than earlier.
Debating should be promoted as a culture in all schools because it promotes logical thinking. It also builds up a character of tolerance and patience besides making students good listeners too! Debating can build a vibrant culture of inclusion and respect in the community. It can also teach students to be able to break into concepts, principles and ideas into components that can be easily assimilated.
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Yes, you might be wondering about the two boys? Yes they are Sidhant Singh and Dhruv Krihnaswami. The event became a possibility because of the important role played by our Senior Program Leader Vishnu Kartik Sir, who incidentally was the inspiration and a great motivator. The judges for the were Manish, Sarika, Niyati and Akanksha, all teachers who gave their valuable time although it was a non-working Saturday!I am also thankful to Renjitha Ma'am who gave us all the support in terms of logistics, and valuable advice.
The finals of the debate competition will take place later in the month of January, and we hope to have a fiery high energy performance from the teams that have reached the final round!

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