Inspired by Debating Matters

from Gujurat to Leeds… DM has been inspiring young people around the globe!

Debating Matters’ reach has extended further than Europe in the last two years. In 2020, former director of DM and current curriculum manager for Mathematics at MidKent College, Tony Gilland, developed a highly successful new pilot debating tournament – DMGBIN – for 16- to 18-year- old students in India and the UK which was inspired by his work at Debating Matters.

On Sunday 27th February this year, the final of the second DMGBIN tournament took place. Over four months 16 schools, eight from the UK and eight from India, battled it out for a place in the final debate. Each school competed in three debates over Zoom to win a place in the semi-finals and then the final of the tournament. This year’s finalists were newcomers Navrachana International School, from Gujarat in India and longstanding DM participants Oakwood Park Grammar School from Kent in the UK.

Joining DMGBIN at the final for the prize-giving ceremony was one of the founders of Debating Matters, Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas and an independent peer in the UK’s House of Lords, and Geoff Kidder, CEO of the boi charity which currently hosts DM. It was an exciting occasion with a completely new debate motion and Topic Guide: ‘Restricting hate speech is more important than protecting freedom of speech’. The content of the debate was challenging for both teams as the context is quite distinct in each country. Communal and religious tensions in India give rise to significant concerns about the impact of hate speech which are not directly comparable to concerns in the UK. However, both teams did a fantastic job of demonstrating a solid familiarity with all the arguments and were insightful and forceful in their defence of the importance of free speech or in arguing for restrictions.

Throughout the whole DMGBIN tournament it has been especially rewarding to hear students get so much out of engaging with their peers in a completely different country, and about issues of importance or interest to them all, but often in very different contexts. As Izzy Ottembrait commented, ‘Debating with the teams from India provided a broadened world-wide perspective and it certainly made the debates more challenging due to the global examples and experiences used.

This was a perspective endorsed by Lily Rana, the teacher from Navrachana International School, who said her team ‘had a remarkably rewarding experience, particularly, in recognising the onus on youth in their role as global citizens.

At this year’s final, the judges took a long time to make their deliberations, a real testament to both teams but finally they came to a decision and awarded the win to Oakwood Park Grammar School who argued FOR the motion. Congratulations to Oakwood Park DMGBIN champions 2021/22!

Congratulations also go to Navrachana International School, runners up in their debut year of competing in Debating Matters.  The Best Individual prize was awarded to Ashwin Knight of Oakwood Park and the Highly Commended prize went to Ashvika Menon of Navrachana. The tournament was organised by volunteer DM supporters and we are grateful to all of them. To find out more about the competition email: tony.s.gilland@gmail.com or Follow DMGBIN on Twitter @dmgbin

A bit closer to home, the DM format returned to live action in Leeds in January of this year as the annual Yrs 10 & 11 debating competition run by The Leeds Salon in partnership with Switalskis Solicitors took place.

The Final of the competition was on Wednesday 30th March at Thackray Medical Museum between qualifying round winners Abbey Grange Academy, Carr Manor Community School and Outwood Grange Academy.

In a lively and competitive round-robin style format, each team played to their strengths across the six debates. The students demonstrated a good knowledge of the debate topics and how to defend their arguments. However, in the end, there can only be one winner so congratulations to Isabel Dixon-Hardy, Delphi Harrison, Abi Hector-Goma and Madeleine Wells from Abbey Grange CofE Academy who were declared 2022 champions by the judges!

Congratulations also to the three individual prize winners: Best Individual, Greta Hirschhorn-Nolan from Carr Manor Community School; Highly Commended Individual, Isabel Dixon-Hardy of Abbey Grange CofE Academy and Commended Individual Alhasan Ahmed of Outwood Grange Academy.

And grateful thanks to venue partners Thackray Medical Museum, as well as prize partners The University of Law (Leeds), and award-winning multi-media company, Tectonic Interactive.

From everyone at DM, congratulations to Paul Thomas, co-founder of The Leeds Salon for managing to organise yet another successful competition, engaging 14 to 16 years-olds in difficult contemporary issues such as “Tech companies should act to stop online misinformation”, “Technological progress will not solve society’s environmental issues”, and “Vaccine passports benefit society”  and very well done to all involved!

Spotlight on a DM Alumna: Julia Dannemann-Freitag

One of the stars of the first ever DM Berlin championship back in 2015 was Julia Dannemann-Freitag who is now a regular judge for the competition. Debating Matters caught up with Julia this year to ask her about her first experience of debating and why she continues to stay involved:

DM: Julia, it’s great to catch up with you. Can you remind us when and how you first became involved with DM?
JDF: Yes, it was in 2015, when Debating Matters was running a pilot programme in Berlin. I only found out about it because I ran into a friend of mine on the way out of the school building one day and she asked me whether I wanted to come along to a “debating club” she had heard her English teacher tell the class about that needed another person to fill in for someone who had dropped out last minute.
DM: And what do you remember about that first competition? Do you remember the motion for instance?

JDF: Well, it was a lot smaller scale than the competition has been recently. There were only six schools participating and the debates were being held in two rooms. My motion was on whether performance enhancing drugs should be used in sports (the first time I was seriously asked to defend a position I didn’t believe in) and I know I was up first and really quite nervous because I still viscerally remember my hand shaking so hard that it was hard to read my speech to begin with. Thankfully that all fell away quite quickly though as I got into the flow of the debate and I got a chance to enjoy myself.
DM: It’s great when that happens, when you overcome your nerves, I think a lot of debaters will relate to that! Did you learn anything from the experience and did DM inspire you or make you think about things in a different way? 
JDF: Debating Matters was my first real exposure to formal debating and as such I learnt quite a lot about formulating arguments effectively. For instance, how to research the topic of the motion, how to state my points in a concise way and how to see a topic from a perspective that isn’t mine. To get good at debating I also needed to learn not only how to tackle an opponent’s argument, but how to counter its strongest, best-stated form. All of these are skills that I’ve found rather important outside of debating too, as they improved my ability to effectively understand what others are saying and make me clearer when I respond.
DM: That’s really great to hear! And what are you up to these days?
JDF: My greatest interest is for the field of quantum gravity, which is why I’m now in my final year, studying for an MSc in physics with theoretical physics at Imperial College London.
DM: Wow, congratulations, that’s really impressive and an area of quantum physics we definitely need to understand more! We wish you luck in your final year.  But before we let you get back to your studies, can you leave us with one final point on why you think debating is important?
JDF: Maybe “important” is too pompous a way to put it, but I certainly think that the skills that it teaches can be very useful. Beyond that, having to defend opinions that aren’t your own can make it easier to see other people’s perspectives in the future. However, my main reason for doing it has always been that I find it very fun.
DM: Thank you Julia, it’s been a pleasure catching up with you.

Julia is an MSci student at Imperial College London where she studies physics with a concentration in theoretical physics. Her interests lie primarily in quantum gravity, particularly discrete approaches. Her master’s project is on the spectral geometry of causal sets. 

If you’re a DM alumnus or alumna we’d love to hear from you and what you’re up to right now.  Please get in touch and let us know your news by emailing mo@theboi.co.uk

Sabine Beppler-Spahl: on launching Debating Matters in Berlin

As Debating Matters returns from yet another fantastic championship in Berlin, we asked our lead German partner, Sabine Beppler-Spahl, what inspired her to bring the championship to Berlin.

“As chair of the Freiblickinstitute, whose purpose is to organise public discussion on political and scientific issues, I felt the chance to host Debating Matters in Berlin was an opportunity not to be missed! Although Britain has a long tradition of schools debates, in Germany debating societies are not as well established.  But there is taste for serious, content-based debating in this country too!

“As supporters of a liberal academic education we believed it was important to encourage students to learn the art of questioning, reasoning and debating – to remind ourselves that there is never only one way to look at an argument. Fact-checking has its place and abstract knowledge is important, but how far can they help us to understand the world?  If we really want to know why we believe what we do, we should allow our ideas to be challenged and be able to debate them robustly and civilly. 

“Freiblickinstitut has taken over the organisation of the competition on a voluntary basis. Many of its members have helped with the preparation of the debates, and on running the day itself. But DM Berlin has been successful also due to the support of many others – the team in Britain, the enthusiasm of teachers and judges, and several event partners such as HeGo Biotec, World and Press, and the UE University which has accommodated the championships and provided catering for the events.

“We use the DM Topic Guides as a basis for the debates but we adapt them to account for the specificities of the German situation. We debate in English (a real testament to the English teaching our schools!) and despite our initial worries about tackling such complex issues in a foreign language, participants have been highly motivated, well-prepared, and able to argue their case convincingly. As communications consultant and frequent DM judge, Phoebe Blackburn wrote on her LinkedIn blog:   

It was a pleasure to hear the genuine clash of ideas backed by thorough research and, crucially, sometimes if not always, interaction, re-adjustment, truly listening to an adverse opinion then, changing tack. Or standing by one’s argument, impassioned, with further evidence and debate.

“We at Freiblick believe it’s important to continue to host Debating Matters because every generation needs thinkers and questioners and we’re looking forward to the next Berlin Championship!”

Sabine Beppler-Spahl, chair Freiblickinstitute e.V.

Nelson-Mandela-Schule emerge victorious at the Debating Matters Berlin Championship 2022

An enthusiastic and well-researched team from Nelson-Mandela-Schule saw off competition from seven other Berlin schools this year to emerge as victors in the Debating Matters Berlin Championship 2022.

The team competed in three group-stage debates and, in the final, took on fellow group-stage winners Schadow-Gymnasium to argue against the motion “Tech companies should act to stop online misinformation”. Both teams were well-prepared and argued passionately for their side of the motion. That meant the panel of judges – Professor Stefan Chatrath, Professor Oleg Dik and DM alumnus Julia Dannemann-Freitag – had a tough job on their hands coming to a final decision! However, Nelson-Mandela-Schule eventually emerged victorious, rounding off an intellectually thrilling day of debate organised by Freiblickinstitut and hosted by University of Europe for Applied Sciences (UE) on its Berlin Campus.

Judges Stefan Chatrath & Julia Dannemann-Freitag present Nelson-Mandela-Schule with their winners’ prizes.

During the final, Robert Leonhardt and Vasco de Menezes from Schadow-Gymnasium offered a range of convincing and well-researched arguments for how tech companies could do more to address online misinformation. But ultimately, it was Emily Reid and Luis Rosefeldt’s impassioned and consistent defence of free speech that tipped the judges, who awarded them overall winners of the competition.

The Schadow-Gymnasium team receive their runners-up prizes.

Students from across Berlin arrived at UE’s Berlin campus to take part in the competition, ably supported by their dedicated teachers from:

· Eckener-Gymnasium                         · Gottfried-Keller-Gymnasium

· Hans-Carossa-Gymnasium             · Humboldt-Gymnasium

· Nelson-Mandela-Schule                   · Paulsen-Gymnasium

· Schadow-Gymnasium                      · Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium

Judges from UE joined others from the worlds of publishing, journalism, arts & culture, business, public services and many more, to put the young debaters on the spot to develop and justify their arguments and compete for a range of prestigious prizes. This year, the prize partners were World and Press, Stadtwandel Verlag as well as co-hosts Freiblickinstitut. A German, liberal think-tank, the Freiblickinstitut stands for freedom and progress, and regularly hosts debates on a range of current issues from politics and the economy to science and art. The institute has been a longstanding champion of DM Berlin and its ethos of open debate.

The judges awarded Emily Reid of Nelson-Mandela-Schule the coveted Best Individual prize for her tenacious approach and attention to detail, Thi Quan Tinh Tran from Humboldt-Gymnasium received a Highly Commended prize and Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium’s Ferdinand Johnen was awarded the Commended prize.

Clockwise from top: a warm welcome to the UE Berlin Campus; Best Individual Emily Reid with Freiblickinstitut’s Sabine Beppler-Spahl; Highly Commended Thi Quan Tinh Tran & Commended Ferdinand Johnen.

Mr Fischer, Head of the English Department at Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium, said of the competition:

“We have really enjoyed taking part in the competition and the students were extra motivated by the setting and the people present and the care taken and by the schedule. Everything has been put together so neatly with an eye for detail and I was really impressed by the passion and energy displayed all day, which really made it a memorable event. It really has been the best competition we have taken part in in a while, and we are extremely motivated to come back!”

NOTES

For further information about the event, the Debating Matters competition or to request photos or interviews with students, teachers, judges and other participants, please contact Mo Lovatt on mo@theboi.co.uk  

Created in 2002, Debating Matters is a UK-based debating competition. DM offers a fresh, accessible and engaging format for debating contemporary real-world issues, with an emphasis on substance, not just style of debating, and the importance of taking ideas seriously. Follow Debating Matters on Twitter: @DebatingMatters

Debating Matters is a project of the boi charity. For more information on the charity, please visit www.theboi.co.uk

For further information about the competition, visit www.debatingmatters.com

For further information about Freiblickinstitut, visit www.freiblickinstitut.de

Announcing the Debating Matters Berlin 2022 Championship!

We’re delighted to announce that Debating Matters is returning to Berlin – live and in person, for our seventh DM Berlin championship.

On Thursday 16 June, during a full day of lively debates, eight Berlin schools will battle it out to become Debating Matters Berlin 2022 Champions. Along the way, teams will have to tackle such issues as whether technical progress can solve our environmental problems, whether Western museums should repatriate their cultural artefacts and if UBI can solve our economic and social problems.  The group stages will culminate in the winners of each group taking on the topic, Tech companies should act to stop online misinformation in the grand final.

This year, teams will be competing from Eckener-Gymnasium, Schadow Gymnasium, Paulsen-Gymnasium, Hans-Carossa-Gymnasium, Humboldt-Gymnasium, Gottfried-Keller-Gymnasium, Werner-von-Siemens-Gymnasium and Nelson-Mandela-Schule.

Berlin students in the audience during 2020’s DM Berlin Championship

Debating Matters has always felt honoured to work with Freiblickinstitut to bring the competition to Germany, and we are delighted to do so again this year. We’re also very pleased, after a year of debates on Zoom, to be back at the University of Europe for Applied Sciences and we’d like to thank both our partners for their hard work and commitment to making this year’s event possible.

At the heart of the championship, as always, will be Debating Matters unique brand of ‘substance over style’ debating, the unparalleled interaction between judges and debaters, plenty of audience involvement, and a commitment to taking ideas seriously. For details of the full competition, please visit the EVENT page of our website and, if you’re in Berlin on 16 June and would like to be in the audience for the event, please get in touch with Mo Lovatt.