Wednesday, November 05, 2008

IDEA Fall Training in Malaysia

Lecturers from polytechnics across Malaysia met last weekend in the northern town of Kulim for a debate workshop and tournament. The Politeknik Tuanku Sultanah Bahiyahin (PTSB) hosted representatives from 12 different schools, including some in the eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Over four days, Azrul, Kye and I worked with lecturers and some of their students on the basics of British Parliamentary, or “Worlds School” debate. We started off with discussions, lectures and group sessions, and ended with a small tournament. It was amazing to see how quickly everyone latched onto the concepts, and the final debates were exceptional!

On the first evening, Azrul covered the basics of critical thinking and how to talk in front of a crowd. All of those apprehensive about speaking in public had their worries eased when Azrul reminded us that Abraham Lincoln, Sokarno and Moses were all nervous before speeches—it’s a normal problem! We ended the evening with a game that allowed students and lecturers to practice speaking in front of people and making simple arguments.

On Friday, students and lecturers learned about speaker roles, how to set up a debate, and rules of argument construction. We also watched a video of the final round of one of Malaysia’s top tournaments. Following lunch, Azrul took the lecturers and Kye and I took the students. In small groups, everyone practiced giving short speeches and writing debate cases. The lecturers split into teams of two and had their first debate competition on the controversial issue of oil subsidies.

Saturday started off with a session on how to judge a debate and more practice in small groups. We continued the lecturer competition and began the student portion, with everyone debating on the motion, “This house would make mandatory military service optional.” For the next round, students discussed the merits and drawbacks of fast food advertising. The final round for the students was held that evening with representatives from two schools. It was a lively round with a good number of points of information and an active audience. Students debated on the topic “This house would abolish school uniforms” and the opening opposition took home first.

Sunday saw the finals of the lecturers’ section—a rousing debate on limiting immigration to Malaysia. The final award went to the closing opposition team, with excellent analysis on the work of immigrants in building infrastructure and a solid summary speech. The audience was packed, and extended beyond the auditorium—it was streamed live on the internet from PTSB’s website!

I would like to thank Azrul and Kye from the International Islamic University of Malaysia for lending their time and expertise, and Lye and Nara from PTSB for organizing such an excellent workshop and being terrific hosts.

Though a number of public universities in Malaysia have debate programs, debate is a new activity in polytechnics. Based on the interest and skill displayed this past weekend, though, polytechnic debate seems to quickly be gaining speed!

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