Why debate?

Debating has a rich history in the world and South Africa. World championships are held annually at various levels and with several streams. The most recent Schools’ Worlds happened in Turkey and South Africa was ranked 4th in the world. This shows that the way we run debating is up to the standard of the best speakers in the world.

The first National tournament was held in 2000 but was preceded by provincial structures. Over the past decade the tournament has been running and expanding successfully.

Debating is not like any other school sport – it does not just entertain you for your teenage years, but enriches you as an individual in the following ways:

    • Critical thinking and questioning attitude: all propositions and assertions are always analysed to the fullest extent and a stance is only taken once a substantiated argument can be made for it.
    • Focus on solutions: if a debate is centred around the implementation of a policy or a stance (as they most often are), simply picking apart the idea is not enough: an alternative always has to be offered. This counteracts the resignation that often accompanies critical thinking and is what our country needs to become part of the first world.
    • Persuasiveness and confidence: debating skills give you the edge in business – pitches and proposals become strategic and insightful, where most people worry about their lack of public speaking experience.
    • Interest in politics, economics, current affairs, the legal system and the environment: in order to be a successful speaker or adjudicator, you need to have a keen interest in how the world works and what is currently transpiring in all fields. If this information is required for long enough, it inspires a passion for knowledge and encourages debaters to be cognisant of a variety of sectors.
    • Open-mindedness: debating allows you to see the good and bad in everything which is the driving force behind our liberal society and the promotion of all things “right” and not just what is ordinary.

The above has been proven by various ex-debaters excelling in their respective fields: Ingrid Cloete,Emma Webber, Daniel Kaliski, Kameel Premhid, Matthew-Butler Adams, Joe Roussos, Michael Fargher and many others have attended internationally acclaimed universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and MIT. There is also a large community of debaters who are currently employed by McKinsey and many other reputable companies.

The role of an annual national tournament is huge in terms of making sure that the above mentioned examples are the norm and not the exception.

Debating starts at individual school level: a club has to be formed and run by a teacher. Schools then generally compete in provincial tournament and after that individuals are chosen to represent the province. The tournament promotes this process in three ways:

  • The speakers have something to work towards: they can see how well they fare against the best that the country can offer. This is conjunction with the fact that these tournaments are always a great deal of fun, inspire students to persevere and hone their skills to the best of their abilities.
  • Schools and provinces are empowered by a higher structure. Schools are more likely to provide resources and funding to their students and staff if they know that it will feed into an established and beneficial structure. Without national guidance, many provinces and schools would not have the support to develop debating; this is especially prevalent in the provinces where debating is not accessible. Currently, there is not enough of a national presence in the debating community: we have the skills and opportunities to help struggling provinces, but we lack the funds to reach them. It is of no use to have a national tournament that some provinces cannot attend because they do not have the financial means for it. Schools in these regions are also less privileged and less likely to invest in debating if they know that it is going to be a huge burden on their finances.
  • Speakers who have gone to Nationals can return to their homes and spread the experience they have gained. Many school societies are run by the students without coaching or teacher involvement and this remains successful because of the willingness of talented individuals to share their knowledge and skills with others. Debating is considered a team activity, thus the only way for speakers to return to tournaments year after year is to work with their less fortunate peers and teach them as much as they possibly can. In this way, the tournament caters for a few hundred people, but its benefits reach many more children.

A further element of competition is making a South African team. After every Nationals, trialists are selected to go to SA trials – there they compete for a spot on the national team. This year sees a pilot project which stipulates that all trialists will attend an international tournament – irrespective of if they make the team or not. All the benefits of a national tournament extend to international tournaments, but without Nationals, the best team cannot be chosen.

In the past very few development speakers have been able to make it to SA trials, which is why a second stream was created: the best development speakers are chosen to attend a training camp where the best coaches in South Africa work with them. A team is then chosen to represent the country; unfortunately not all trialists can be guaranteed an international tournament because of funding restraints, but every effort is being made to ensure that we can source funding for at least one international tournament.

Debating on a national level plays a crucial role in the development of personal and professional skills of the children who will probably be the leaders of their generation.