Hard Talk With Irzal, DCA Of The 9th IIUM Inter-School Debating Championship: What’s Up With The Premier Schools?

Posted on April 22, 2010


Last Tuesday, the 9th IIUM Inter-School Debating Championship (English category) ended. The championship was won by SK (L) Methodist Kuala Lumpur. They defeated SMK Damansara Utama with a split decision of 6-3. The nine adjdudicators at the grand finals were Irzal, Azrul, Khalidah, Mizan, Ian Howell, Adiba, Don, Izzat and Alex MMUM. The motion of the grand finals was ‘THBT the face veil is just as much a symbol of female empowerment as the miniskirt’.

I adjudicated a few rounds during the weekends as well as on Monday morning. Overall I felt that the quality of debaters has slightly dropped in comparison to previous years. I also felt that there is an apparent difference in quality from to daily schools to the premier schools (SBP and MRSM). I feel that the daily schools are a lot more sound in persuading their cause or points. I had a chat with a good friend of mine via FB, who is also the the DCA (Irzal Kamal) for the championship. Below is the conversation that we had:

Me I didn’t get to adjudicate much this year. However, from the limited observation that I had, I noticed that public schools are doing a lot better compared to SBPs or MRSMs. Do you share the same observation?

Irzal That seems to be the case just by looking at the results. However, I judged many schools from each category during the prelims and the knockouts. If I look at it overall, I don’t think there is much difference.

Me [This is when I got a little annoyed] What do you mean by when you look at it overall there is not much difference?

Irzal If you look at the break, there is a relatively equal distribution of SBPs and daily schools. I don’t think it’s a case of daily schools outdoing the SBPs. Its just that before this we expect SBPs to do better because of their strong debating traditions. This year it just shows that daily schools are now getting better and are able to compete on par with SBPs. Both SBPs and daily schools are training frequently, hiring debate coaches and doing what is needed so it’s just a case of daily schools stepping up. Nevertheless, I’m quite happy with the level of quality of debating at the school level today.

Me [Happy?] For the past three years, the Championship was won by a daily school. If I am not mistaken, the last time a premier school won this tournament was in 2007. Many observers believe that these premier schools has lost their dominance and what you call ‘strong debate tradition’. The only reason why there is equal distribution at the break is because these schools can afford to come to the Championship unlike daily schools. What ‘s up with the premier schools? What’s wrong?

Irzal Hmm….I’m getting the feeling I’m on BBC’s Hardtalk. There’s nothing wrong with them. I don’t think they break just because they can afford the rego, that doesn’t make any sense. I’ve judged many SBP teams in this tournament where it’s possibly a winning team, just as much as daily schools. When competition is equal, there is no such thing as dominance. You don’t have to win all the time to have a “strong debate tradition”. That’s what the IIU interschool is for, to create great debaters, regardless of which school you’re from.

Me Hardtalk huh? Wouldn’t this be perfect training ground before you join politics … Hahahaha.

What I meant earlier on was that there’s a strong presence from premier schools in the Championship, making the number of breaking teams relatively equal because they can afford the registration fee and travel.

But anyways, when you say that there is nothing wrong with them are you proclaiming that they should stick to the way how debaters are trained and developed? Don’t you think that to an extent that the PPM style of debating is effecting how they are developing hence, performing at the Championship?

Irzal Oh, so that’s what all this is about. Why didn’t you say so earlier?

Different tournaments have different judging standards. Daily schools have the Datuk Wira cup which is more similar to PPM than to IIU interschool. However, teams already know what judges expect in the IIU interschool and they are catering to that.

PPM and Datuk Wira put a premium on manner is debating. My opinion, it is just as important. Even at varsity level, Malaysian debaters suffer at international tournaments due to poor manner, although we might have the best argument in the world. So if someone has only debated at PPM and goes to IIU interschool, he /she might not perform because he/she is not conforming to IIU’s judging standard. However, if they use the skills to win PPM and combine with the skills to win IIU interschool, perhaps we could have a more complete debater when they debate at varsity level. This is in the end, the more important objective.

Me Are you saying then, that the adjudicators at the Championship puts a premium on matter?

Irzal Not really. What I mean is manner at IIU interschool is focused on clarity and believability, where as manner at PPM or DWC also puts an extended importance on style, great language, good decorum, etc. These are skills which native speakers at Worlds have which Asians dont have. We can win debates but we wont have high scores when we go to tournaments like Worlds.

This is coupled with the strength of the arguments, as well as how effective things are substantiated. It has been argued that the “flair” aspect in varsity style debating is sometimes placed as a secondary importance at varsity level. But then again, “good manner” is highly subjective and thats why judges use their discretion at judging the manner aspect of the debate.

Me I see. Finally, what do you think that needs to be done to improve this sorry state of affair?

Irzal For school level, I think its important to get our kids to master the fundamentals early. Things like basic knowledge of issues, being able to substantiate properly, rebut effectively, using language effectively, developing a good style, having good structure, etc. For you to be able to do well at international tournaments, these are just basic skills you need to have. If our school debaters can get these skills down now, they will be far ahead when they step into the training room at varsity level.

So instead of training the basic, I would be able to shape you up quickly with the skills for International Competition (which I will only reveal when you join IIU, hahaha).

It is easier said than done. Perhaps there should be more effort and openness between schools, varsities and their respective administration to help our kids develop these sklls quicker.