How youth can find their voice through debating

Published on Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Published by Chris Morris on Tuesday, 13 May 2014

By Chris Morris

Mahatma Gandhi was a debater who challenged injustice and the status quo. According to Gandhi, “honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”

Employing well-chosen words and nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements striving for civil rights and freedom across the world.   In his early career, Gandhi worked as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, where many years later, another champion of social justice in South Africa, the Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, once advised: “Don't raise your voice. Improve your argument.”

Debating also empowers young people. It builds oral presentation skills, develops confidence in public speaking, and trains debaters to listen, assess and form arguments.

To this end, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) over the last four years has been supporting youth debates in Asia and the Pacific. We first introduced Youth Debates in the 44th Annual Meeting in Hanoi in 2010. Since then, we have partnered with youth and children-focused international NGO Plan International in delivering the Annual Meeting Youth Debates as well as routinely supporting debates at knowledge events. Two recent events—the 2014 Philippine Inter-Collegiate Debating Championship (PIDC) in ADB HQ and the 1st Great ASEAN Eco-Debates, Siliman University in Dumagete—brought together more than 450 youth from some 12 ADB member countries.

The value of debating

At our recent events, young people were heard talking about the value of debating in their everyday lives:

“Debate forces you to understand sides you might not agree with, and then makes you reconsider. Debate opens you up to issues you never thought you'd bother reading up on.”

“Debate encourages you to look at both sides before making a decision, and challenges your understanding of issues you previously thought you understood already. In some cases, it even reinforces your own beliefs after being given the chance to question and defend them.” “Debate has shaped me to become a citizen of the world who is aware of sufferings, including water insecurity, gender inequality, and poverty experienced all over the world.”

The youth debaters also gain friendships along the way. “Debate events are great avenues for me to meet people who are just as comfortable in challenging norms, ideas, and issues,” said one debater. “The conversations are definitely something to look forward to.”

“In a debate, you learn how to be in a team and foster friendships that go beyond debate rounds or tournaments,” another one added.

The Astana experience

Our 47th Annual Meeting held earlier this month in Astana, Kazakhstan, featured an international youth debate. In preparation, ADB’s field offices in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan held pre-tournament competitions to send the winners to Astana.

These annual debates have been a key tool for empowering youth. We will continue to introduce more youth debates into ADB-supported forums, workshops, and knowledge events to step up development dialogue with youth.

Youth debates provide an opportunity to showcase the knowledge and skills of the region’s youth to our member governments and other stakeholders. It also connects youth throughout the region by crossing borders, sharing regional cultures, and bridging national boundaries. All the skills gained will be valuable assets in their future careers, family life, and daily communications with friends.

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