What Debating Can Do For You

By Alison Home, on 24 August 2012

Sondos teaching on Summer School

Today’s post is a guest piece by Sondos Ibrahim – second year UCL English student and UCL Horizons tutor – on why secondary school students should get involved in debating.

“Recently, I joined the UCL Horizons team teaching debating on the fantastic Summer School. For four days in late July 70 Year 10 students learnt to express themselves with articulacy, respect and confidence. Debating is a much misunderstood skill – associated with stuffy, posh and arrogant old men. In fact, before I got involved in debating when I was in sixth form, this was exactly my view. Attending a debating workshop run by university students really encouraged me to get involved. My first ever debate was a clear disaster – I completely lost my trail of thought after 45 seconds and nearly burst into tears. Lots of practice and encouragement gave me the confidence to lead my schools’ debating society to competitions. I really think the buzz of debating and the skills I learnt helped me to tackle university and job interviews, and I got involved in competitions and university level debating. This year I helped run UCL’s debating society. Just before the Summer school, I had led several workshops for young people. I was so excited to get involved because I wanted to change people’s perception of debating and hoped it would help other young people just like it helped me.

On Summer School we wanted to show our talented young people that debating is not only a fantastic academic skill, but one which teaches many life skills – how to work with others in a team and how to think critically and astutely about every day issues.

Debating really does open so many doors. In the coming years you will be sitting more examinations and perhaps thinking about university. The UCAS personal statement is your chance to prove to the admissions tutor that you are suited to their course – convincing them of your point of view.  In this way, it is similar to a debating speech –you support your application with evidence, and articulate your thoughts in a confident and convincing way. For some courses, an interview may be necessary and here debating has endless uses – giving you the confidence and equipping you with the critical thinking to defend your position under pressure and take criticism respectfully.

On Summer School, we focused on speaking style, the rules of British Parliamentary Debating and giving constructive feedback.  I was particularly impressed by how some shyer students grew in confidence and the supportive atmosphere fostered throughout the week. Whilst this is clearly a credit to our Year 10s, I think it says something about the skills debating teaches you – it gives you a more mature way of expressing your views and taking criticism.

I would really encourage young people to get involved in debating – if you school doesn’t have a debating club then speak to your teacher and see if one can be set up. UCL’s debating society runs lots of schools’ workshops which are a great way of learning the basics. Our Schools’ Cup is a great first competition, as all the schoolchildren are new to debating and it’s a great way of meeting    other young people from across the UK.  Equally, organisations such as DebateMate and the English Speaking Union run great workshops.

Debating created lots of opportunities for me – see if it can do the same for you!”

Debating resources for schools and students: