Career & Education

Debate — a tool to encourage more dialogue

Sunday, October 01, 2017

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I am firm in my conviction that dialogue eventually solves any conflict, and that as a people, we fail to see its benefits. Being the loudest, attacking the character of the opponent, and using multitudinous creative expletives tend to form the general framework of 'arguing' in Jamaica. As a direct result, many Jamaicans lack basic reasoning skills.

I am firm in my conviction that education is key in effecting near-permanent social and behavioural change within a society and, as such, a great burden rests on academic institutions to engage youth collectively.

Northern Caribbean University (NCU) manifests this philosophy of engagement and social responsibility. The institution has aggressively been pushing debate as a tool to encourage more dialogue among our nation's youth, as well as to engage them in meaningful solution-oriented national conversation.

Head coach of the NCU debating team Noreen Daley believes that debating can help bring about needed change in Jamaica.

“If more of our people were exposed to debating, we would have a better society, because people would be more open to listening to each other and become more tolerant. Also, in some ways, talking about it may help to trigger change, because debating provides a platform for issues to be aired. Hopefully, by discussing national and international issues they will become more involved in fixing some of these issues they are debating,”she said.

NCU opted to use debating because, while it has always been a staple in Jamaica, the British parliamentary format is more demanding and reflects more of what pertains in society. It is the format used at the highest level of debating, the world's Universities Debating Championship (WUDC).

Attending WUDC India, and witnessing it in action lit a fire that now burns with a mission to ensure more tertiary institutions become aware of this format of debating.

The school has since implemented several initiatives aimed at increasing awareness and boosting debater and adjudicator capacity in Cornwall and Middlesex. The two main initiatives are the provision of training for debaters and coaches free of cost, with the assistance of the Jamaican Association for Debating and Empowerment (JADE) Limited, and the creation of the NCU Invitational Debate Series.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Daley, who also serves as acting chair for the ncu Department of Communication Studies. “UTech (University of Technology, Jamaica) made an effort to reach out to us in 2012, so we are paying it forward. For those of us who are knowledgeable, we need to share. If you share the knowledge, it will lead to a better society.”

Delmas Brown, Jamaica's representative at the first Global Health Debates, held in Manila in 2015, and recent graduate of NCU, however warned that “the British parliamentary format is not for the faint of heart”.

As the name suggests, it mirrors what obtains in the Houses of Parliament in Britain. In contrast to the popular three-on-three debates, the British parliamentary format has eight speakers, each speaking for an equal time of seven minutes. The eight are divided into Side Government and Side Opposition (sometimes referred to as 'benches'), with a further subdivision of Upper House and Lower House. Speakers assume roles such as prime minister, leader of the opposition, member of parliament, and whip. Topics to be debated, called motions, are revealed 15 minutes prior to the start of matches.

Sasha Rowe, Brown's partner at the Global Health Debates, espoused the advantages of this style over the traditional format.

She said, “The 15-minute preparation time fosters a culture of being prepared for anything, and always having an informed view on topics. The seven-minute presentation time encourages young people to get their point across in the best way possible. The bonus is that it allows you to think fast, and outside the box on a wide range of topics”.

“Before debating, I was more on the reserved side. I was afraid to weigh in publicly on topics, because I possibly would have faced backlash. But debating has taught me that it's okay to disagree. Having learned the skill, I know there's always a root cause to problems, and once this is known, finding solutions becomes easier. Debating has also exposed me to tolerance; you may not always agree with what the person says, but you must respect his/her right to speak.”

Sharing this last idea is Jevon Minto, recipient of the Mexican Government's Scholarship of Excellence, and Young Scholar for the China-Latin America Programme at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. While pursuing his bachelor's degree at NCU, Minto said initially, he was almost “bodily arrested” and brought to the debate training sessions, but he eventually came to realise “how much it could help when engaging in issues of public interest”.

On a team level, Daley explained that the sacrifices have been innumerable, and that her biggest challenge is funding. She explained, however, that she persists because she is “always interested in anything that will expose students, or that will push us to do what others aren't doing”. Additionally, she said that some of the overseas alumni have helped them offset financial obligations.

“I find creative ways of asking for help, but if we had money, we could go to overseas tournaments, and we would be able to do more in terms of training,” she noted.

Looking back, she said she has very few regrets and there have been more highs than lows, because over the years, things have got better.

“We have really done well when compared to where we were in 2013. Winning isn't by accident; it is something we have worked on over the years.”

As such, I remain firm in my conviction that change is possible, and that the onus is upon Jamaica's youth to effect said change. I remain firm in my conviction that our educational institutions ought to do more to produce socially responsible global citizens. And I remain firm in my conviction that dialogue is the best way to solve conflict.

— The above was submitted by T Iman Wilson.





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