For a third consecutive year, the Pacific Institute of Public Policy has brought secondary school students together to dissect, discuss and dispute key issues of the region. Ten schools from Efate have signed up to compete in a new format aimed to provide greater levels of participation and learning for the students.
Schools compete in five rounds of competition, hosted at different schools with motions for each focused around themes including kastom, and the environment. For the first week of debates, all motions looked at areas of Vanuatu’s economy, with topics focusing on income tax, seasonal work and the benefits of tourism. For each debate, students are required to prepare their argument with their teammates, looking to find compelling arguments and examples to persuade the audience. They are judged on their argument’s content, their overall presentation and their role within the team.
For students this presents a rare opportunity to stand up and present to their peers. It allows for an exchange of ideas, where the up and coming generation have the platform to share their perspectives on a range of issues that are often left to ‘ol bigman blong Gavman’ to discuss. They need to look past their own preconceived opinions and delve deep into a topic to understand both perspectives of an issue. From here they are able to formulate passionate arguments that draw on their own experience and interpretation of the issue.
For many schools, debating and even public speaking is a new concept. In its third year now, the competition has focused on supporting schools to become independent, with the aim of incorporating debating into school curriculums. New introductory resources have lifted the pressure from teachers, reducing the level of direction needed and allowing students to take responsibility for their own learning. As the rounds progress, students have become more independent, motivated to prepare individually and with their team.
Student’s gain confidence and conviction, allowing them to freely express their opinions whilst also challenging ideas in a respectful and constructive manner. Skills in research and fact finding are nurtured, as students work together to find creative methods of collecting evidence. In Round 1, students from Ecole Francais designed and carried out a survey of their fellow peers to see what percentage of their students benefited from tourism to help support their argument. With a greater understanding of the issues and their challenges students are then able to conceptualize poignant and intelligent solutions to the problem at hand. The benefits from the competition are far reaching, as students start to uncover new passions, new perspectives and new methods of coming to a conclusion.
All schools have shared the responsibility of hosting the debates, allowing students to visit their competitors, and providing each team the opportunity to present in front of their home crowd. With financial assistance from the Vanuatu Ministry of Education and Training, schools will for the first time travel out of Port Vila to Onesua Presbyterian College, a boarding school 50 minutes from town for the forth round of competition. Schools have been eager to invite their fellow competitors to visit, providing a welcoming atmosphere that allows students to relax and embrace the competitive but supportive nature of the event. Enthusiastic crowds have added an extra dimension, with constructive question time encouraging a greater discussion on the issues at hand. Students have shown a genuine interest in the motions presented, opening the floor to a fair and balanced dissection of the motion and the perspectives put forward by their peers.
Teams now have just two debates left before the Grand Final. For the final debate of the round robin students have been asked to put forward their own motions. So far themes of gender equality and human rights have been identified as key issues of interest. This final round will also be hosted in Bislama, instead of English, with the idea of providing more freedom to the students to openly present their opinions. At the conclusion of the round robin, the two top schools in each pool will come together in the Grand Final to compete for the title of Vanuatu School Debate Champions. Six standout students of the remaining schools will also be selected to join together and compete in an “All Stars” final, with the aim of promoting the event not as a competition, but a method of learning and experience. This will continue to enhance the skills of our young leaders and provide them with the tools to be creative, critical thinking citizens well into the future.
The following are video clips of 2016 debates held so far:
Round 2. Vila Central School vs. Ecole Francais: The environment should be used to generate income
Round 1. Lycee L.A.B vs. Onesua: The Vanuatu government should introduce income tax
Round 3. Port Vila International School vs. Vila Central School: Traditional practices should be promoted as tourism attractions