National Novice Debate 2011: It’s Better To Be Absolutely Outrageous Than To Be Absolutely Boring

Posted on March 9, 2011


Aina Syazwani Salleh
Chief Adjudicator
National Novice 2011
Universiti Teknologi MARA

My first few months of debating was definitely one of the most memorable time of my career; it was that time when a full 7-minutes speech was my greatest achievement and all my factual errors were considered cute. (The one that my UTMARA family refuses to let me forget is my speech on a country called Africa… Yep, debating saved my life). So when I was asked to be the Chief Adjudicator for the recent National Novice Debating Championship, I was thrilled to be a part of the participants’ life-changing entry into this exciting world of endless reading, sleepless nights, bootcamp-style trainings and busy weekends (what holiday?) which we have grown to love (too much, that some just refuse to leave).

National Novice is renowned for many reasons, be it the record-breaking number of participants, and the equally record-breaking number of rounds squeezed in within three days, a different drama each year and this (link to Statement of Nat Novice). This year is no exception. The tournament featured 98-100 teams, as some teams went in and out of the tabs, I suspect the pattern correlates with the difficulty of the motions. The biggest drama was the mix-up by the admin which left 15 of the debating venues locked! But leave it to the resourceful debaters to find their own makeshift venues, some even convinced me that debating under a tree would be fun (I can certify now that it isn’t). With nine rounds over the weekend, the tournament was truly a test of endurance and by the fourth round everyone was a zombified version of themselves and I could sense death stares as I walked by.

However, what made the tournament this year different from its predecessors is the rise of the school teams. I was truly amazed (and somewhat scared) to discover how brilliant these kids are, effortlessly sailing through the competition in their school uniforms and teachers in tow, kicking some varsity students’ butts while they’re at it. Yes we are talking about 14, 15 year old kids. My heart goes out to the indignant varsity debaters who were ‘victimised by the biased adjudicators’ and all I can say is I sure was glad to not be debating this time around!

As the Chief Adjudicator, my team and I decided that it’s time to steer the Malaysian debating community away from stale motions (if I have to talk about legalising prostitution one more time…) and introduced motions that are fresh but still principle-based. One of the most significant women in history once said, “it’s better to be absolutely outrageous than to be absolutely boring” and we had this in mind when discussing the motions. So we took a risk and experimented with motions and boy, were we surprised by the great (admittedly unexpected) feedbacks from the participants. It was wonderful to know that our venture into the road less taken was appreciated.

Having said that, I understand that the some of the motions are rather extreme, and I truly apologise from the bottom of our hearts if anyone was personally offended. The adjudication core felt that issues in the motions such as apostasy in Malaysia and sex education are pressing concerns in our society and it’s time to talk about them in an intellectual discourse, regardless of how sensitive they are.

Thank you everyone for making this is a great Novice for me, thank you for being great sports and most importantly, thank you for giving me a valuable and memorable learning experience.

See you next year. =)