LAST year, Team Malaysia ranked fifth at the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) held in Bangkok, Thailand. This year, the bar has been set much higher: the Malaysian Institute for Debate and Public Speaking (MIDP) plans to win the title!
The plan to dominate the Worlds began at the selection stage. Just ask any of the top 15 debaters – Aishwarya Adaikalaraj, 17, Amrit Agastia, 17, Thevesh Thevananthan, 18, Kishen Sivabalan, 14, Nimalan Gunandran, 16, Roshan Sivabalan, 16, Deborah Wong, 17, Evan Wong, 17, Tariq Azlan Shah, 16, Nishanth Selvalingam, 18, Siddharta Adaikalaraj, 14, Aaron Luke, 18, Mahdev Sachdev, 18, Mandeep Singh, 17, and Imran Mateo, 16 – who were hand picked for Team Malaysia.
According to Deborah, who was part of the trio that won the 2014 Asian World School Debating Championships (AWSDC), the selection process was pretty much the same as last year – just more competitive.
“The quality of Malaysian high school debaters has definitely improved because there are more tournaments to join. In fact, our calendars are pretty packed! And people are starting to see the fun side of debating, so more students are eager to participate,” said Deborah.
Apart from the top 15, for the first time ever, Team Malaysia has a junior team that consists of seven members – Aniq Hazis, 15, Wazir Kahar, 15, Ryan Lim, 14, Kimberley Tegjeu, 15, Atira Jayne, 14, Luc Choong, 16 and Benjamin Ooi, 15.
MIDP chief executive officer Maizura Mokhsein said the fledgling junior team was formed so that when the top 15 debaters graduate, there will be a solid second tier team already acquainted with the system.
When someone has the interest and wants to be a good debater, they’ll be self-motivated and disciplined.
Making the grade
MIDP is currently in its fourth year as Team Malaysia manager (appointed by the Co-Curricular and Arts Division of the Ministry of Education), and according to Maizura, reception has never been better.
The number of applicants went from 50 students in the first year to 450 this year. A hundred and twenty candidates were then shortlisted during phase one of the selection process, which involved debaters providing their debating résumé and a short essay on why they wanted to be part of the experience. MIDP only considered applicants who had finished in the top 16 or 32 of an interschool or intervarsity tournament.
The 120 debaters then moved on to phase two, which was a four-day process. On the first day, they went through written tests on general knowledge, current issues and even the entertainment industry. Based on that, the top 42 were chosen for the final test – the elimination rounds, where they would debate against each other for a slot on the 15-person team.
And to make sure the final 15 were all-rounders, they were all forced to switch speaker roles, and 20 percent of their final score was taken from their written tests.
Training for champs
The top 15 will have to undergo intensive training starting eight months before WSDC takes places on July 27 to August 6 in Singapore. The team will train at least once a week, and will attend tournaments across the region and the globe.
Team Malaysia head coach and trainer Siron Pereira will give them assignments, including weekly 2,000-word essays on current affairs such as the Syrian conflict or the housing bubble crisis in the United States, as well as role-playing activities where debaters are expected to solve issues given to them.
MIDP will also invite professional industry players like CEOs, athletes and politicians to speak about the gamut of real-life problems they face.
Maizura is confident the hard work will pay off.
“When someone has the interest and wants to be a good debater, they’ll be self-motivated and disciplined. They’ll be willing to put in the amount of hard work required and commit themselves to the process,” said Maizura.
“It means training every week, reading every day, always practising and watching debate videos to learn more. People who do this diligently will inevitably become good.”