Posted tagged ‘debating’

Debating the future

December 17, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to participate in a debate organised by DCU’s Debate Society. The topic was university tuition fees, and I was one of several speakers (including the Labour Party’s education spokesperson, Ruairi Quinn). It was a lively event, and at the end, as you might possibly guess, the majority of those present voted against the reintroduction of fees.

However, my point here is not about fees, but rather about debating as a student activity. The event was attended by a reasonable number of students, but the room was by no means full. The quality of the contributions was good, but there wasn’t altogether the undercurrent of passion that accompanies really good student debates. For a debating society to succeed, it needs topics that stimulate real bursts of fire, the active participation of articulate and quick-witted debaters, good visiting speakers, regular injections of humour, and lively and full participation.

As a student (in some other university), I was an active debater and a committed participant in the main debating society of that university. We did not always manage to have debates of genuinely high quality, but it happened often enough for students to want to be there on every occasion. It seems to me that this is a really important ingredient of student life, and in many ways a vital aspect of a good education.

Debating is however also a by-product of good teaching – if teachers encourage participation during lectures and other classes and prompt and support debates around topical issues it will help to create the environment in which student debating will prosper. The tendency of university education over the past decade or too to become too career-oriented for the students has not helped this.

The debate I attended was not disheartening. The society seems to be doing well, and the students who were there were keen to take part actively. But I suspect the time is right to encourage a whole new generation of lively debaters to emerge. In the past such students debaters became the political and business leaders a generation later.