While he was at university, Vincent Chiang (Cohort 2016) was a champion debater. As President of the Australian National University’s Debating Society, he represented the university at a number of international competitions and judged the World Championships.
So, when he began teaching English at Gold Creek School, Australian Capital Territory, in January 2016 he was delighted to learn that his school had a debating program “courtesy of a teacher who was deeply passionate about the activity”.
He signed up to coach some teams and help to run the Junior debating program, with Year 7 and 8 students.
In the lead-up to the ACT Debating Union’s Junior Open Debating Competition, Vincent and his team trained regularly at lunchtimes and after school to prepare for the competition. They developed ways to structure an argument and practiced public speaking.
“We constantly brainstormed ideas and arguments for a wide range of different topics,” Vincent said.
“And I introduced them to concepts and ideas such as the Bechdel Test, the workings of our political system and abstract philosophical ideas about morality, which I thought would be important.”
The students debate at lunchtime
The Junior Open Debating Competition in the ACT consists of six preliminary rounds and a series of finals: octos, quarters, semis and a Grand Final.
Throughout the various rounds of competition, the students from Gold Creek debated topics such as whether all schools should be co-educational, whether there should be quotas for Indigenous parliamentarians and whether federal funding for the arts should be abolished and be used for foreign aid instead.
Of the 60 teams which began the competition, the students from Gold Creek were among those who made it to the Grand Final, where they debated the statement “we should ban people from posting anonymously on the internet”.
“I was rather surprised with the announcement that we went in to the Grand Final,” said Year 7 debater Taaseen, “considering I’m usually very pessimistic.”
Rebekah, another Year 7 student, said that she felt proud to be part of the first ever team to represent Gold Creek in a debating Grand Final. “Even if we didn’t win, I was glad I made some good friends,” she said.
Above all else, Vincent attributes the students’ success to the efforts they put in:
“I can’t imagine that most kids at age 12, 13 or 14 want to spend their lunchtimes and after school hours discussing debating topics with teachers or arguing over Australian foreign policy!”
The Gold Creek students with their certificates
“They were also very engaged and intelligent learners,” he said, “and they often surprised me with their novel and clever ideas.”
However, Vincent is quick to note that all the staff at Gold Creek, and the community more generally, played an integral part in the students’ success:
“I owe a lot to the other staff members, who helped create the debating program which I inherited,” he said.
“It makes such an incredible difference when there are people willing to give up extra time to support the students.”
For the students involved, the skills they learnt and the friends they made were the most integral part of their experience. Year 8 student Skye said that debating had been particularly helpful for her as she wants to be a lawyer.
Vincent and his colleagues at Gold Creek intend to keep running the debating program next year as the Junior team’s success has already led to far greater interest than ever before.
“I’ll keep debating next year,” said Rebekah, “because it will help me in public speaking for the future and it’s just overall fun. I made some good friends and I hope I can make some more.”