Conversational combat for kids

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For the kid with that razor sharp tongue, a great outlet has been released this year. Singapore’s very first debating competition for primary school students was organized by I Can Read learning centre.

Kids debate

For the kid with that razor sharp tongue, a great outlet has been released this year. Singapore’s very first debating competition for primary school students was organized by I Can Read learning centre.

theAsianparent was invited to grace the grand finals which were held at Geylang East Library on 7 December. We entered the competing hall to see anxious parents and energized kids preparing for the competition.

Walking amongst the kids, we saw Simon Andrews, Recruitment Officer for I Can Read, adding a much needed dosage of humor to ease any hints of stage-fright.

The Beginnings

The I Can Read English program introduced a new curriculum this year in response to the Ministry of Education’s new syllabus for P5 and P6 students. The new syllabus places emphasis on expression, critical thinking and oral presentation.

Having identified debating as an effective way of allowing students to enhance all these skills, I Can Read organized such a competition in conjunction with the Singapore Debating Association (SDA).

“We’re looking forward to what the judges have to say about our talent. Kids that barely whispered are now bouncing words off the walls. It’s a sense of achievement for all of us.” said Simon.

10 teams from the various I Can Read centres across the island debated against each other in March this year on topics such as “The sale of unhealthy food to children should be banned” and “Zoos do more harm than good”.  The top 4 teams then qualified for the grand championship.

The Grand Championship

The topics for the grand finals were “Fairytales do more harm than good” and “Technology makes the world a better place”. Teams from Sengkang and Yishun competed for the grand final with the first topic while Bukit Timah and Jurong East debated on the second topic for 3rd place.

Kids delivered their speeches eloquently and rebuttals were strong yet politely conveyed. Judges from the SDA were impressed by the significant research the kids empowered their statements with.

“We saw a good example of substantiated statements. For instance, one team used the creation of the atomic bomb for arguing against the topic that technology makes the world a better place,” said Judge Emmanuel, member of SDA.

Debaters were awarded based on their ability to react to the opposition’s argument, flow of logic, and crafting a persuasive argument that exude confidence and to back their points with research.

2 children who met these criteria and awarded the “Best Speaker Awards” were Mable, 11 (Sengkang Team) and Yu Xuan, 12 (Yishun Team).

Cinderella takes a beating

Fairy Tales came under scrutiny when the young debators pointed out a few unsavoury points that question the morality of fairy characters like Cinderella.

Debating that“Fairytales do more harm than good”, Yu  Xuan of the Yishun team said “for Hansel and Gretel, what’s with teaching kids about pushing an old lady into a boiling pot of water after invading her home? And for Cinderella, the theme has – Whatever you do, don’t be ugly, marry a rich man and that’s a fairy tale for you?”

Speaking to the winning tongues

In the end Team Yishun won the grand finals for “Fairytales do more harm than good.” The team had 3 members Yu Xuan, 12, Ryan and Yann Ming, both 11. The lowdown they gave on fairytales and persuasive arguments engaged the audience to the fullest.

Ryan has been with I Can Read for 3 years while Yann Ming has been with the centre for 8 years.

We asked the kids to describe their debating training sessions and what were their favorite subjects on the whole. Yu Xuan said “training sessions were more fun than mugging. We’d be throwing teddy bears at each other 60 percent of the time and the rest of the time we focus”

When asked what subjects he liked in school, he replied with a cheeky grin, “Uhhh recess? And English”.

Ryan then chirped in to tell us about his grades. “I used to get 70’s in my English exams. Rare occasions maybe 80’s. Now I have my grades steady at about 90…91.”

The team’s instructor, Ms Saras Thangaiya beamed with pride as she shared. “It’s not like a regular monotonous learning experience. It’s a free environment and I let them speak their mind. Freedom of expression is the key to English language.”

Simon sums it up for us.  “These kids come in with the same personality. But they’ve learnt how to let it shine through and now not only do I get to see it, the whole world does.”

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