EurOpens in Stuttgart, Germany 5. – 12.11.2011
We Finns are practical people and always ask what we will gain and benefit from something. So what did we gain from participating in the debating competition?
Networking, getting to hear experienced people’s advice, understanding how much we still have to learn, but also realizing we are confident enough with our English skills, will get the help that we need and are most welcome back next year.
What will have to happen during this year’s time?
Firstly, we will need to change the rules for Finnish national competitions. Secondly, we will have to pass the experience and information we gained there not only to other participating, but also new schools. Thirdly,we will have to take foreign and domestic networking more seriously than before. Last but not least, get the team members to spread the word because this is all about the students’ best interest, students’ improved logic, style and speaking skills.
The teams we saw in Stuttgart came from various types of schools, from very exclusive to regular state schools. This year the newcomers came from Finland, next year there will be the first group from China.
There are four debating competitions close to us that take place on a yearly basis, follow the world school rules and welcome (almost) everybody. Why we chose the Stuttgart competitions was perhaps a coincidence; they had heard about our 15-year-long history in debating and contacted us. That got the ball rolling ,we managed to get enough students at Tampereen yhteiskoulun lukio interested and off we went after a couple of months. Why TYK, you might wonder.The answer to that question is simply because we won the nationals in Helsinki last January. Another reason is perhaps that we are an arts oriented school, our students are familiar with being the centre of attention, which clearly was an asset since the preparation time was so short.
About the preparation time; we will have to modify our timetables to suit those of Stuttgart if we decide to go on having this international practice. In our school it means that we will have to set up a club after Christmas , ask the ‘experienced’ students to share their experiences with others there and start practicing the techniques. These same students are willing to come to other schools too to make new people interested in debating. They will also get a course for all these activities.
The rules in world school debating
The debating society in Stuttgart say the rules are not the best in the world. If we want to compete in Europe, however, we will have to get familiar with this set of rules. In case you got interested, send me a message and you’ll get your own copy.
What is different then compared to our Finnish system?
There are three members in the team, each speaker has a particular role. Let’s take a look at the Proposing house. The first speaker has to offer a clear definition of the motion . The motions this year:
THBT European interests are best served by an active campaign to promote democracy
THW promote EU citizenship
TH considers that the Commonwealth has outlived its usefulness
THBT the greatest threat to Western society is its ageing
The teams don’t only debate on the motions that are published months before the competition. They also do impromptu debating where the preparation time is one hour.
The second speaker (‘second affirmative’) tackles the ideas the first speaker from the opposition presented and goes on defending their case.
In the third speech the rebuttal (dealing with the opposition’s arguments) takes most of the time and if the third speaker brings out any new ideas, the first speaker must announce this in advance.
The first three speakers speak for 8 minutes, the last rebuttal takes four minutes.
The role of the last speaker (summing up) is to clarify what the clashes are between the houses and why their side should win the debate.
In the best debates that we saw and I judged the clashes were clear, the logic could be followed and finding the winner was relatively easy. In many cases there were flaws on both sides , the definition not clear enough, points of information not used as they should have been and finding the winner harder.
It became quite clear to us too that practice makes masters and the more experience the debaters had, the better all the areas (content, strategy, style) became.
Comment from one of the judges in Stuttgart
‘We do not promote debating and debaters do not practice debating in order to name a large number of specific instances at the drop of a hat, but in order to increase general knowledge and to hone people’s skills of argumentation.’ (Chris Sloan)
This is what my students said:
‘Apart from international social contacts, we gained many things like understanding how the parts of definition influence the debate.’
‘How the points of information are important, how they must be responded to and divided between speakers.’
‘Interaction within the team, which must be a cohesive unit sharing ideas both before and during the debate. For these reasons this house still believes that this trip was a success and debating is a sport of the best kind.’
Kristiina Leskinen (email@example.com) National coordinator for debating