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The importance of debating at UCL Horizons’ Summer School

24 August 2012

Sondos Ibrahim, a second-year English student and tutor at UCL Horizons’ Summer School, discusses the benefits of debating, and two Year 10 students explain how the skills it brings might help them in the future.

UCL Horizons Summer School debating final 2

Recently, I joined the Horizons team teaching debating at their fantastic Summer School. Over four days in late July, 70 Year 10 students learnt to express themselves with articulacy, respect and confidence.

For many, especially younger people, debating is a much-misunderstood skill often associated with stuffy, posh and arrogant old men. In fact, before I got involved in debating when I was in sixth form, this was exactly my view. Attending a debating workshop run by university students really encouraged me to get involved. My first ever debate was a disaster – I completely lost my train of thought after 45 seconds and nearly burst into tears. Lots of practice and encouragement gave me the confidence to lead my school’s debating society to competitions and, eventually, to become a debating tutor with UCL Horizons.

Sondos Ibrahim teaching debating at UCL Horizons' Summer School

I was so excited to get involved because I wanted to change people’s perceptions of debating and hoped it would help other young people just like it helped me. The aim of the Summer School was to show secondary-school students that debating is not only a fantastic academic skill, but one which teaches many life skills – for example, how to work with others in a team and how to think critically and astutely about everyday issues. It’s also valuable when writing a UCAS personal statement and even more so if an interview is required for the course they’re applying for: debating experience gives people the confidence and critical thinking ability to be able to defend their position under pressure and take criticism respectfully.

UCL Horizons Summer School debating final 1

At Summer School, we focused on speaking style, the rules of British Parliamentary Debating and giving constructive feedback. I was particularly impressed by how some shyer students grew in confidence due to the supportive atmosphere fostered throughout the week. Whilst this is clearly a credit to our Year 10s, I think it also says something about the skills debating teaches you – it gives you a more mature way of expressing your views and taking criticism.

UCL Horizons Summer School debating final 3

I would really encourage young people to get involved in debating. UCL’s Debating Society runs lots of school workshops which are a great way of learning the basics, and our Schools’ Cup is a good competition for first-timers. Organisations such as DebateMate and the English Speaking Union also run workshops.

Debating created lots of opportunities for me and I hope it does the same for the students who attended Summer School.

Find out what the Year 10 students thought of the experience

Jasmine Osei

Jasmine Osei, Cumberland School

When our Head of Year told us that there were some spaces available at a UCL debating summer school I thought it’d be a good thing to put on my CV so I filled in a form and here I am! What appealed to me about debating? I love to argue! And talking is one of my favourite things to do.

I think the organisers of Summer School picked issues that people have all thought about, for instance the monarchy and the Olympics. Other topics we’ve debated this week included the pros and cons of giving prisoners the vote, and university versus apprenticeship – which one’s better? It has helped me think about issues in a different way. At first there are obvious answers but I like to push them to the side and think about what the opposition might be going to say.

A friend of mine is quite quiet and she told me that Summer School has completely changed her confidence. She talks a lot more and I think it’s amazing that in just four days she’s suddenly chatty, it’s lovely. It’s also been really nice being in a university setting.

Fabio Marinello

Fabio Marinello, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic School

I’m very interested in politics and I thought that learning how to debate could help me find a career in politics in the future. The issue I’ve enjoyed covering the most is what I debated in the final – the Olympics – as it’s very current, it’s political and there’s a lot of debate about it; it was cool to be able to get my perspective out to lots of people. We didn’t get to choose which side we were on, which is a good thing because then you can learn to argue for things you may not believe in. You might have to do that in the future so it’s good practice.

Debating here has taught me that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Previously, I worked by myself and constructed my own arguments but now I’ve learned that it’s better to put forward all your ideas as a team so you can be equally strong and the argument’s consistent and fluent.

Main text by Sondos Ibrahim; supplementary interviews by Ele Cooper

Page last modified on 24 aug 12 14:40


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