Youth Speaks District Winners 2023

​Public Speaking at its best on Sunday 5th March … District 1145 Youth Debate Final

A splendid crowd of parents, teachers, friends and family came to St Teresa's School, Dorking, on Sunday 5th March afternoon to watch the District 1145 Final of this year's Rotary Youth Debate Competition. Rotary in Dorking have run this event some four or five times and never have we seen the hall so full and with such a buzz!  To get here today all the teams we saw had performed twice in public, (no doubt plus many other times behind closed doors!), and had won twice.  Four semi-finals around our District gave us these winners to date.

The Intermediate class (11-13 year olds) was won by St Mark's School from Hounslow, (sponsored by the Rotary club of Hounslow), with the local team from St Teresa's, Dorking, as Runners-up.

At this stage of the competition not only do we look for the winning team, but also for the ‘best’ performer in each of the roles of Chair, Proposer and Opposer. The St Marks team was so strong that they won ‘Best Chair and Best Opposer as well, while St Teresa’s gained the 'Best Proposer'.  Each team choses its own topic to debate, research and prepare and then present it.  

Were the St Mark’s team optimistic or foolhardy in their choice: ‘Aiming for perfection is dangerous’!  They suggested that we all have an image of what is a perfect life and an urge to do better.  But how hard should you push yourself to attain this: work to raise your standards by all means, but not to the extent that it leads to obsessions, jealousies, personal dissatisfactions and mental health issues. The opposer told us that it is not the ‘being perfect’ that is the key, it is the aim to get there that is important: the motivation to overcome our errors and to aspire: that is what keeps us going!  

As runners-up, St Teresa’s team proposed to us that ‘British Sign Language should be part of the National Curriculum’.  Their argument was that, since as many as 16% of us struggle to communicate with verbal contact, and as such can feel isolated, confused, and may miss out through lack of understanding, sign language should be compulsory in schools from the age of 4.  The proposer felt that signage should be included as part of disability equalisation: it can be a burden for the parents of hard of hearing children to have to fund sign language lessons for their children.   In opposition to this suggestion, we were told that in 2017 the government conducted a survey of 30,000 people on this very subject, considered the results, and then disagreed with the concept.  What an onus it would be on schools and teachers to have to offer this as standard, what additional pressure on schedules and budgets … and if sign language were compulsory, what next: braille, for example?

The honours were much more spread in the Senior class (14-17 years).  

Oathall Community College from Haywards Heath (sponsors the Rotary Club of Cuckfield, Lindfield and Haywards Heath) were considered as the best of the five teams, having in their midst also the ‘Best Opposer’.  Their topic was ‘Censorship should be censored’. They argued that censorship is used only to often for evil, citing for example that the slants Putin and China (not to mention politicians and angry activists) put on their doctrines does more harm than good.  On the other hand, in opposition, we were asked if we wanted our young children to be free to search all on the Internet; should all our National secrets be open to the world to see.  No. Some censorship is necessary, there are many things that we need to be protected from some censorship is essential.  

Oathall were very closely followed by Wilson's School from Wallington (Rotary Club of Sutton Nonsuch).  In this very year following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, it seemed entirely apposite that one team should propose to us: ‘Abolish the Monarchy’.  The cost, the power that the Monarch can impose on us all from Parliament and the Armed Forces down … very good reasons to say ‘enough’.  But with the state of the world as we see it right now, not to mention our own politics, might this not be the very worst time to foster such thoughts?   Their cost to the public purse is totally overstated.  The public want them to stay. Whereas they do have the powers cited, let’s look at reality and not theory: they bring stability and independence from politics.

Interestingly, and to show how close the competition generally is, the two other ‘Best’ individual awards went to teams not in the first two – the Best Chair from Sackville School, and the Best Proposer from St Mark’s Senior team.

In both age groups two teams go on to the penultimate round of this National competition, at Regional level, where they will compete against other teams from the South East. The National Final will be held on Sunday April 23rd, at The Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby.

For more information on the Youth Debate competition, to ask about your Club or School taking part next year, or if you personally would be interested in helping run the competition in the District next year, please contact john Thom using the form on this page.

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