Angu Rajendran, in the Daily News, August 2011
They are full of enthusiasm! They are full of ideals! They are tomorrow’s leaders! They know to look at world issues and to analyse them. They know that every problem has two sides to it. They know that life is not all black and white. They know that you can agree to disagree when the going gets tough. The Sri Lanka Schools debating team is participating in the World Schools Debating Championships in Scotland from August 17 to 24. Five youngsters aged 15 years to 18 are accompanied by their coach – the 21 year old Kithmina Hewage who is here on holiday from Johns Hopkins USA where he is reading for a degree in Foreign Relations and Economics. The young debaters are very confident as they prepare for the world competition. Their confidence is born out of hours of research and debate on world issues. Combined with the idealism of youth and the excitement and adventure that awaits them inScotland, when debaters from forty three other countries gather to argue on the world’s most pressing social and economic issues, the young team of three girls and two boys is indeed a source of great pride for Sri Lanka.
The world debating competition consists of eight debates per team. They have four debates on given topics and four impromptu topics. “Of course the impromptu topics will only be given to us exactly one hour before our debate”, says Captain Sanjit Dias. These five debaters were the chosen ones, from the cream of top fifteen debaters who took part in the National Schools Debating Tournament conducted by the Debaters council ofSri Lanka. TheAllIslandcompetition was won by Colombo International School (CIS) who debated against St Thomas Mount Lavinia on the topic ‘Wikileaks should be banned’ in the final round.
That was a split decision’ says Sanjit who captained St Thomas’ in the final debate. ‘Four out of the nine judges thought thatSt Thomaswas better and the other five thought that CIS was better. So they won but only by a hair,’ says fiery Sanjit. What is interesting is that the two captains – CIS debating captain – the cool and collected Tamara Fernando who fought tooth and nail against the ferociousSt Thomascaptain Sanjit Dias, albeit through words are now working together on the national team, pooling their ideas and supporting each other against the other nations and their views.
They have all been working at least 3 hours a day and six hours on Saturdays when they debate against each other, pool and plan their arguments, learn how to argue in a controlled manner, understand underlying meanings of issues, outguess their opponents arguments, plan their rebuttals. “It is like preparing for a sports meet or a cricket match” they say. “We are together against the others. It is our wit and research against the others. Each of them had something personal to gain out of this exercise as well.
Captain – Sanjit Dias Age: 17 School: St Thomas Mount
“I like debating because it forces us to get a mature outlook on life when we discuss real world issues. I love to hear the other team when they come out with some novel views even though we think we have covered all aspects of the debate and we think we know what they are going to say. This is my life’s passion and it is the first step to becoming a lawyer which is what I want to do.”
Lithmal Jayawardhana …. Age: 16 years ….School: Ananda College
“It all happened so fast. I just gave the school debating a shot because a friend dragged me for the trials and I got selected to the team. Then I realised I love to argue and debate. That is, to argue and debate after doing a lot of research. Then you are really talking. Debating gave me the confidence to try out for the school drama team as well.”
Coach – Kithmina Hewage …..Age: 21 School: Colombo International School ……Currently: Johns Hopkins University,USA
“I was the captain of the team last year and we were in the top sixteen of the world debating competition. I wanted to help and pass on the tips to the next team. I love to debate and I want to work in foreign affairs. I think debating is the best way to learn about what is happening in the world. Debating helps anyone to listen and to appreciate others points of view.”
Manisha Dissanayake Age: 18 School: Ladies College
“Debating has taught me that most of the time people are simply biased. We just need to look harder to see the other side. Every problem has two solutions. We choose the one we want. I too want to be a lawyer. And this is really a great experience for me.”
Ralliya Hussain ….. Age: 15 years ….. School: Methodist
Ralliya is the youngest member of the team. “What I like most about being on the debating team is that you can get on the team if you are good. There are no age groups, like in sports. You just need to be able to research and understand issues and have the confidence to talk.”