"It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it." – Joseph Joubert
And for the contestants of Colombo's latest debating event, proving a point is almost a passion. Creating a platform for young debators to widen their horizons, the Faculty of Law, Sri Lanka Schools' Debating Championship was an ideal launch pad for preparation for future involvement in the area. Organised by the Faculty of Law Moot Court and Debating Society, the tournament held on February 16, 17 and 18 at the Faculty of Law, Colombo, saw the participation of a large number of schools from around the county.
"This is the second time the event was held, and it was a good experience for the students, as it was something quite new to most of them. The style of debating we used for the tournament was the parliamentary style, and since most students get to usually debate under the prepared style of debating, this was good exposure for them," says Mevan Kiriella Bandara, the project coordinator. "We had about 130 participants from over 25 schools participating. Some schools sent in more than one team, and we registered them on a first come first serve basis," added this first year student of the Faculty of Law.
The competition had five preliminary rounds and all of the teams had to participate in each round. "The tournament functioned on a win point margin basis, and every team had to participate in all five rounds, giving them an opportunity to get more exposure in debating, and therefore gaining from the experience, even if they don't go through to the next round."
The tournament had five themes, namely international terrorism, Sri Lankan affairs, climate change, God and science and dangerous sports. "These themes were given to the contestants at a workshop that we held prior to the tournament, so they have a couple of days to prepare for the debates. We also made them aware of the finer points of parliamentary style of debating, since some of the contestants had never debated under this style before."
According to Niran Anketell, the president of the Faculty of Law Moot Court and Debating Society, the judges for the tournament were past debators and Faculty of Law seniors well-versed in the field of debating. "We also have a body called the Debators' Circle which is made up of alumni who have been debating, from various schools, most of whom are now young professionals in various fields. There was quite a lot of assistance for the tournament by this body as well."
The tournament was an ideal opportunity to identify good debators in schools, to short list the contestants for the World School's debating competition, to be held in Korea this year. "We have chosen 15 debators from the tournament, for this international competition, and will be having a focus workshop for them. Then sometime next week, we will be cutting it down to the five contestants most suitable to represent Sri Lanka at the competition," said Mevan.
"The experience was completely new to some of us, as we don't really get to debate according to the British parliamentary style. The workshop that was held prior to the tournament, gave us a very good knowledge of the subject as well. We were given the five themes at the workshop, and asked to research the areas and prepare for the debates. We participated in eight debates in total, and became the champions, going against Asian International School," said Sandaruwani de Silva (16), the captain of the Bishop’s College ‘A’ team. While the other two members of the winning team were Keshia Pendigrast (17) and Thameena Zarani (16), the topic for their final debate was "This house believes that the democratic ideal should extend to the US foreign policy," which they proposed. Zara Cadar of AIS won the Best Speaker award.
Though the majority of the participating schools were from Colombo, the competition also saw a number of schools form Galle, Kandy and Negombo, proving the interest for debating, throughout the country.
"We unfortunately were not able to have schools from the North and East participating due to the security situation, but it was great to have schools from other parts of the country," said Mevan.
Deepesh Jayasekara (15), was the captain of the Mahinda College debating team, and it was their first time debating under the parliamentary style. "It was the first time I was captaining my school team, and as we hadn't debated in this style before, it was very beneficial to us.
The workshop helped us to a great extent of course." While one of the debates they proposed was "This house would reactivate the death penalty in Sri Lanka," according to Deepesh, though they didn't get through to the quarter finals, the experience was great.