Taking on real issues

Himal Kotelawala speaks to the debating team that made it into the World Schools’ Debating Championships

A young team showcasing a winning attitude beyond their late teenage years, did Sri Lanka proud at the recently concluded World Schools’ Debating Championships (WSDC) held in Doha, Qatar where they were placed 11th in a challenging competition that saw debating teams from 57 countries taking on each other.

The winning team, put together by the Sri Lanka Debaters’ Council (SLDC), consisted of Team Captain Sandaruwani De Silva (18), Sanjit Dias (15), Pranjeevan Kulasingham (18), Maleen Jayasuriya (17) and Kithmina Hewage (18) who were coached by Former President of the SLDC Dehsan Pushparajah.
According to Deshan, this is the best team to have represented Sri Lanka so far in the tournament.

“We’ve been upping the bar for some time now. The WSDC is usually dominated by English speaking countries. But even India started after us. This year Sri Lanka was ranked above India and Pakistan and even above countries like Ireland, Scotland and South Africa who are the usual dominators,” he says.

The Championships take place every year in a different country, hosted by a national debating body. Students under the age of 18 are allowed to participate and according to Sandaruwani, Sri Lanka have been taking part for the last five years.

On their way to the highly commendable 11th place, the team managed to impress many, especially after their victory over South Africa, one of the top guns in the game.

“I guess the most competitive team we were up against was South Africa. They’re one of the big teams and after we beat them everyone started taking notice of us. We also managed to beat Israel,” says Maleen.

Eight preliminaries were held, out of which six were won by the Sri Lankan team. Debates were conducted in the currently accepted format of debating known as the British Parliamentary Style of debating in which individual speeches go up to eight minutes, and may be interrupted with questions from the other side.

“What’s really good about this format is that we actually debate real world issues. There is a philosophical aspect to it, but it’s grounded in reality,” Maleen adds.

The team’s final topic of debate was whether performance enhancing drugs should be legalised. Sandaruwani, who was placed 48th out of 300 on the overall speaker tab, has been the only girl on the team for three years. This has clearly not intimidated her in any way. “Female participation was much higher this year. The top speakers were female,” she says with a grin.

So, what does it take to be a good debater apart from being confident and knowing your stuff?
“It’s not just about speaking. It’s about being able to challenge views and you need to be willing to stand up for things. Sometimes you’re on the side of a topic which you might not agree with, but you have to make arguments for that side,” says Sanjit who was placed 3rd in the category of participants who spoke English as a foreign language at the WDSC.

The team, with the guidance of Coach Deshan, worked hard in preparation for the tournament, especially during the final week before the event, holding practice debates almost everyday. Barring Sanjit who is only 15 years of age, this team will not be able to take part in next year’s WSDC.

However, they wish to continue their debating and hopefully take it to the next level and represent their respective universities at the University equivalent of the WSDC.

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