Debating Matters Online – UK vs India

After seeing the success of the Debating Matters Online debates run during the Lockdown, former Debating Matters Director Tony Gilland took the spirit of DM Online and decided to engage some old contacts from his time running Debating Matters India (2008-2014). Tony organised three debates between Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and teams in India.

In this article, Debating Matters competitor Emma Gilland reports on the success of the series of debates:

Through the early month of lockdown many of us felt that not only were we missing out on school but in fact we were missing out on more than that, as all our time, thoughts and conversation were consumed by the dramas and injustices of lockdown. Although it could be seen that this brought a certain level of abnormality and interest it also was the centre of repetitive and dull conversation, which is why the re-ignition of the Debating Matters India online was such a great experience. 

“This international debating was an amazing experience which should be extended to allow the chance for others to try as it is especially broadening and exhilarating as the teams are adapting and reading the differences in debating style and viewpoints, much more than in a national competition as there is such a contrast in lifestyle and culture between the teams.”

Emma Gilland, Debating Matters Debater

Since the start of lockdown there had been various debates between schools and students, but this then changed into an international event between Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School (Faversham, Kent) and various schools in India as we extended ourselves to further distract from the lack of variation at home. There were three debates across the six week period which gained  momentum as the debaters began to feel more comfortable with the format and overall feel of an international debate. 

The first debate was a global issue, debating on whether populism is a threat to democracy; this was a heated and passionate debate full with real examples from many areas and time periods in contemporary society, especially relevant in the current political climate. This debate was a great start as there was so much compelling evidence laced through the debate combining awareness of current events with real clarity over the arguments which were well thought-through and very well presented. Through the debate there were historical, modern and theoretical examples deployed in response to the deep and technical questions by the judges. It was an exciting and passionate debate which was highly enjoyable for both the audience and the judges. The British team, from Queen Elizabeth’s, stole the debate due to the stronger structure of their arguments, the evidence used in their responses, and their ability to really target the questions with solid examples from a wide area of sources leaving little room for scepticism. However, in saying this it was seen as a very close debate with the only difference being the level and amount of examples through the debate. Overall the debaters felt that the strength and passion from the opposing side allowed them to really open their minds and look at the issues from different angles, making them not only better in the debate but leaving with a much more rounded and deeper understanding of the issue.

Following this we moved onto the complicated yet hugely influential birth strike movement debating on whether or not people should only have two children. This sparked a huge conversation and the opposing sides both were strong and clear on their arguments. The proposition focused on the huge impact needed to protect the environment and the moral arguments underpinning this perspective. The proposition argued the outcome could be achieved through incentives (rather than being forced), therefore still allowing for individual choice. However, through the debate the opposition questioned whether people would really have a choice? Do incentives in fact take that away and is it necessary to put that pressure on families? The opposition argued further that the consumer culture of the West is the real issue and the proposed restriction on the number of children is a distraction. Both sides held well throughout the debate but in the end it was the opposition, from the Indian school DPS Megacity, Kolkata, which won the debate. Their passion and clarity on the importance of choice won them the day, with their emphasis on the morality of choice (instead of any possible practical benefits) convincing the judges.

The final debate was another big contemporary conversation about whether childhood vaccinations should be compulsory. This was a stretching topic for both teams as they were dealing with complex issues such compulsion, liberty and the role of the state. Both sides made powerful arguments and demonstrated strongly held, well thought-through positions. The debate centred around the issue of what liberalism means, bringing in plenty of examples from contemporary events and culture. This made the debate especially enjoyable to watch as they brought in issues from today’s politics. The debate was lively and laced with both issues and principles. In the end, the British team won due to their ability to really undermine the opposition’s arguments and underpin their own, but overall it was a hugely enjoyable, well matched and very close debate to conclude the series. 

One special feature of Debating Matters is that it was clear how helpful and enjoyable the experience was for not only those debating but many of the judges and audience members. The difference in debate styles and culture kept everyone on their toes and opened our eyes to how much we can get out of talking and discussing some of these contemporary issues with people beyond our circle. The debates were a massive success as they opened our eyes through both our experience of debating and having our arguments challenged by the judges, but also through the opportunity they gave us to research into these topics and understand how many other  issues there are to be solved. This was especially needed in the current times as we have been so caught up in the personal restrictions of the lockdown. 


DEBATE ONE: “Populism is a threat to democracy

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Kent
Teacher: Tom Finn-Kelcey
Debaters: Ellie Waller & Rishi Milward-Bose

Team Chennai
Teacher: Ragini Srinivasan, Indian Schools Debating Society
Debaters: Nitin Kishor & Rakshitha Hebbar

Nikunj Agarwal, strategic consultant, WP; alumnus, DM India
Dolan Cummings, associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story
Janaka Pushpanathan, Director, British Council South India

WINNER: Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School Kent

DEBATE TWO: “Climate Emergency: People should not have more than two children”

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Kent
Teacher: Tom Finn-Kelcey
Debaters: Freya Moorhouse & Emma Gilland

DPS Megacity, Kolkata
Teacher: Anirban Roy
Debaters: Arth Agarwal &Vidyut Chattopadhyay

Debanjan Chakrabarti, director, East and Northeast India, British Council
Timandra Harkness, writer, comedian and broadcaster; author, Big Data: Does Size Matter?
Shreya Radhakrishnan, vice president, Goldman Sachs; alumnus, DM India

WINNER: DPS Megacity, Kolkata

DEBATE THREE: “Childhood vaccinations should be compulsory

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Kent
Teacher: Tom Finn-Kelcey
Debaters: Ben Ansley & Beth Poulteney

Christ Junior College IBDP, Bangalore
Teacher: Manoj Varghese
Debaters: Siddharth Tugnait & Arjun Mahesh Guru

Professor George Thomas, chief orthopaedic surgeon, St. Isabel’s Hospital, Chennai
Shreya Radhakrishnan, vice president, Goldman Sachs; alumnus, DM India
Jacob Reynolds, partnerships manager, Academy of Ideas; co-convenor, Living Freedom and The Academy, boi charity

WINNER: Queen Elisabeth’s Grammar School

A message from Debating Matters

With schools closed for the majority of students and lockdown underway, we want to offer some support for teachers thinking about what to engage pupils with. There is lots that can be done to generate a spirit of intellectual inquiry, discussion and debate.  

We’ve always referred to teachers as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the competition. Indeed, the resilience of many teachers and the hard work that organising classes remotely will entail means that teachers are ‘unsung heroes’ for society more broadly. We want to support teachers as much as possible. 

Whilst we can’t be together in person, we do have a number of things that people can do to keep debate alive whilst the schools are closed: 

  • Our topic guides are a great place to start to get to grips with some of the pressing questions of our time – questions that will not go away no matter how and when the pandemic is resolved. You can think about whether we should clamp down on ‘fake news’, whether western countries should pay reparations for colonialism, if AI should be welcomed or feared, and manymany more.

  • On top of this we will be publishing some guides over the next few days about how you can encourage students to do a Debating Matters debate remotely. We hope this will be useful resource and something you can plan for students to do without too much extra work on your part.

  • If you end up with some time to start planning for the future, you can also use the resources on the website to start to think about how to set a debate club up when you return

We’ll also stay active on social media, suggesting readings, topics, lectures and podcasts that will keep you busy, thinking, and critical. 

If you have any questions, suggestions, or want to share any ideas, please do get in touch with us. You should email Bernie Whelan, or call on 020 7269 9230. 

Over this period, the priority is following the government advice and staying safe. But hopefully alongside this we can all keep the spirit of debate alive, and sharpen our minds and arguments for when things go back to normal. 

Warmest wishes,

The Debating Matters team.

Special DM public debate at Oxford Union on 27 June

As part of our DM Oxfordshire Championship 2019, the final debate of the competition and an extra public debate are being presented as a special event at the Oxford Union. This two-part event is part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts. You can buy tickets here.

The Schools Debate 

“Populism is a threat to democracy”

Following a day of debating amongst Oxfordshire sixth-form students, the final debate of the competition gets this event underway. 

The presentation and award-giving will take place immediately after the debate.

The Main Debate
19:00 – 20:30

“From sexting to screen-addicts: should we be afraid of online harms?”

Few deny the benefits of social media and the internet age, yet there are also constant calls for greater regulation of online media and concerns about the negative effects especially for children. In February of this year, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers issued recommendations to parents encouraging them to ban the use of mobile phones at the dinner table. We live in a time of heightened sensitivity to possible online harms – from foreign interference in elections through online ‘troll farms’ to the alleged link between social media and suicide.

Parents and teachers seem especially eager for clarity about what boundaries to enforce online. To what extent should we be concerned about the harms that exist online, or should we be careful about fanning the flames of moral panics? How should we protect children from new technologies without robbing them of the possibilities such technologies afford? Should we be worried about the erosion of privacy online, as people share more and more and are increasingly tracked by large corporations and governments? Do we need to have a conversation about why we increasingly see everything in terms of the harms that exist, and struggle to imagine new generations and ourselves as robust enough to deal with the challenges we face?

The debate will be chaired by Claire Fox, founder and director of the Academy of Ideas, a writer and broadcaster and regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. The guest speakers are:

Jess Butcher MBE
technology entrepreneur, co-founder of Tick and Blippar; three times TedX speaker.

Alex Krasodomski-Jones
director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos

Dr Victoria Nash
deputy director, Oxford Internet Institute

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer

DM comes to Durham on Friday 5 July

Sixth-form students from eight schools in the North East will battle it out for the title of Debating Matters North East Champions 2019 at a flagship day of debate on Friday 5th July. The event will be hosted at the Durham Sixth Form Centre.

Previous DM championships

Registration is now open for the competition, which sees 16- to 18-year-olds take part in a series of debates in what has been dubbed ‘the UK’s toughest debating competition’. Local schools will generally enter teams of between six and eight sixth-form students, and Debating Matters particularly welcomes applications from schools without a history of traditional debating.

Durham Sixth Form Centre is an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ school and the largest post-16 school in the North East of England. With a fantastic location in central Durham, it makes a great venue for the competition and Debating Matters is glad for the school’s support.

As ever with Debating Matters, it will be the substance of the arguments – rather than the style of presentation – that will decide the winners, and participants are encouraged to leave no stone unturned in a day of fierce, frantic and, most importantly, free debate. The students will face judging panels of adults from a wide range of professional backgrounds – including local business leaders, scientists, authors and academics – who will quiz them on their arguments and challenge them to defend their research and thinking.

Geoff Kidder, chief executive of the boi charity, said of the upcoming competition: “We are hugely excited to return again to the North East, which is a region we always tremendously enjoy going to. We know we can expect very rigorous debate and an atmosphere of competitive intellectual camaraderie. We offer particular thanks to Durham Sixth Form Centre for hosting the championship. We are excited to see what the schools have in store for each other on the day.”