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Why schools should embrace debates

Lyce Notre dame de citeau students after wining the inter-high school debate on conservation. / Diane Mushimiyimana

Last week, Lycee Notre Dame de Citeau won the Inter-High School Debate competition on conservation organised by Aspire Debate Rwanda in partnership with Hermosa Life Tours.  

The event was held at Impact Hub, Kigali.


A three girls team representing the school walked away with a trophy, gold medals as well as a fully funded trip to Kongo Nile Trail after beating Ecole de Science de Musanze (first runner up) which won a Canopy walk trip in Nyungwe.


The second runner up, Agazo Sharon Youth Village, was also awarded with a boat cruise on Lake Kivu.


The three best competitors made it to the finals after concluding a three-month long programme, competing with 16 other schools selected across the country.

Evidence indicated that a reasoned debate allows students to explore and gain understanding of alternative viewpoints and, for the participants, develop communication, critical thinking and argumentation skills.  Also, debate motivates students, develops their argumentation strategies, and encourages learner-autonomy, among other benefits.

Rebecca Joy Kaliza, a member of the Lycee Notre Dame de Citeau team, says that it was an honour to participate in such an inspiring competition. She says that the most rewarding thing about debate is that it increases critical thinking capabilities, which can help in making the right decisions in school (especially during exams) or later in life.

 Students cheer on their team during the debate. / Diane Mushimiyimana

“It is the third time for me to participate in a debate competition and every time I learn new things. When I just started public speaking, my confidence was really low. I struggled with nervousness whenever I was speaking in front of people even in classroom presentations where I faced a small audience.  Now, I’m really well-improved in many ways,” she says.

David Ntambiye, the managing director of Aspire Debate Rwanda, says that as a local organisation with the zeal to promote public speaking, empower the youth in leadership and communication by nurturing their critical thinking skills, they believe that debate can have a great impact in learning outcomes.

Building confidence

He is convinced that from the way students grow interest in research which develops their critical thinking and decision making, by the time they appear for a debate, they are able to argue their position and contradict the opponents’ points with confidence. Even when one’s side doesn’t win, it leaves them more knowledgeable about a given topic and enthusiastic about research.

 “As they prepare to listen to opponents’ debates, help students develop research skills because without adequate research on the set topics, they cannot manage to challenge their opponents and convince the judges about their views. As they do research, not only do they improve their thinking capacity, they also get to expand their learning horizon,” he says.

He adds that for more results, all schools should make debates a regular part of their co-curricular activities, especially by encouraging the creation of vibrant debate clubs to help students get used to it and be prepared for national, regional and even international level competitions. 

Communication skills

JMV Habumuremyi, a lecturer at University of Rwanda’s College of Education, says that reading, writing and listening carefully are the three most important communication skills for students.  And debates can help a lot in nurturing such skills.

“Many students face a challenge of not being able to express themselves effectively. Yet, expressive skills are those which are used to express our feelings and thoughts, thus get a view across successfully to the listener.

To get such skills, getting regular debates can enable students to learn how to communicate effectively and get the full attention of the listeners,” he says.

Habumuremyi adds that another major benefit of debates is that students are trained on how to be respectful when another person is speaking, which is essential in every sphere of life — professional or personal. And later in life, they will know how to respect other people’s opinions.

Eloquence in language

Academics say that another important aspect about debate is that it can also help learners become fluent in languages, like when they are debating in English, as they speak, they get familiar with it and this boosts their self-esteem. 

Sharon Munyazikwiye, the country coordinator of ‘Teach a Man to Fish’, says that nothing gets students more motivated to speak English than having the opportunity to debate with their peers. 

“I have observed that there are students who can write well in English but they are too timid to speak. Teachers can bridge this gap by creating space for expression, to get used to the vocabulary acquired,” he says.

Classroom debates

Classroom debates not only get students thinking, but interacting and communicating as well, which fosters presentation skills, research, teamwork, and public speaking skills.

For classroom debate, Munyazikwiye says that teachers can help select a topic depending on the age of the students. The next step is to let the students take the topic and research both sides of it to find out what side their position is on. Then break them into groups.

Once they are in groups, they can discuss their thoughts on the issue.

After, the teacher can play the role of a judge and decide at the end of the debate who the winner is. This can be done in front of the class or in groups at the same time.


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