Why every student should take part in school debates

A student airs his views during a past inter school debating competition in Kigali. File.

“All schools should have debate clubs. I lacked self-esteem because my English was not good enough, I only felt comfortable interacting in Kinyarwanda. However, when I joined the debate club, I became more confident, and started expressing myself freely.

“My teachers encouraged me a lot and I am glad that I can now address a group of people without panicking. I have learnt a lot and my English vocabulary has improved. It takes a little faith in yourself and participating whenever you get a chance to,” says Teta Lise Uwase, a former senior six candidate.

She says that debates expand one’s knowledge and critical thinking, as you extensively do research to prepare for them, and learn from your associates—both sides.

Debates boost skills that are not easily attained in class. In order to get effective results, schools ought to conduct them often, like once every week, for primary and secondary level.

A debate is a discussion concerning groups of people relating to opposing viewpoints. A debate can be any topic and it requires students to think and come up with points defending their argument.

Usually, one side wins according to the way they express their views. However, this doesn’t mean that when you lose, you have not been useful. It gives you an opportunity to work on your errors and weaknesses in order to perform better next time.

According to Pascal Urayeneza, the head teacher of E.S.S.T ESPRIT School, Nyanza, debates help learners expand their understanding. When students are aware of current affairs, they transfer this knowledge to their academics, thus enabling them to pass exams. Basically, debates are ways of revising, as the topics discussed relate to every aspect of life. For instance; entrepreneurship, up-bringing, morals, politics, among others.

He explains that through debates, students are able to work as a team, practice public speaking, and reflect on a number of ideas, which keeps their minds active.

“You learn how to discus and address ideas through debates.  Debates also allow you to accept other people’s views,” says Simon Pierre Nzaramba, a teacher and a national debate’s trainer at Lycee Notre Dame de Citeaux Kigali.

He says that students also learn to be creative, and discover a lot from a variety of discussions, and such knowledge helps them in the present and the future. This challenges their judgment on different aspects of life.

“We urge every student to be part of the debate club as it enables them to interact with their teachers and fellow students, while improving their listening skills. When students relate well with their teachers, they are credited when they present their views in an appropriate manner, and empowered to continue with the spirit of debating.

Sometimes, what students need is someone to cheer them on. Be that teacher that gives them hope, guide them whenever they need to learn more,” says Leon Fidele Ndabakunda, a debate trainer at E.S.S.T ESPRIT Nyanza.

He explains that for proper communication, listening is key and this is only possible if students value debates and listen to views of their counterparts.

Ndabakunda notes that debates are therapeutic to troubled and frustrated souls.

If teachers want their students to have general knowledge, debates are the real deal. They expose the learners to the world they live in, for example; government policies, history of their country, foreign affairs, and how to live as good citizens. All in all, they get to know what and what not to do, he adds.

Ndabakunda says that students get to learn a lot in a short period of time through debates, and this is because they discuss all subjects, as topics vary. A child can even gain interest in a subject they never liked. Students also develop grammatical skills.

When it comes to debates, Nzaramba believes every student should participate, whether they like it or not, as that is the only way they will learn. The topics discussed should respect Rwandan culture and most importantly, they must be able to address the problems faced in society today.