Teen debaters poised for success

The Malaysian team that took part in the World Schools Debate Championship in Singapore. Form left: Amrit Agastia, 18, Kishen Sivabalan, 15, Evan Wong, 18, Deborah Wong Kai Wai, 18, Nishanth Selvalingam, 19, and Aaron Luke, 19.

MALAYSIA reached new heights in the World Schools Debating Championship (WSDC) by making it into the quarterfinals. Held in Singapore, the tournament was held between July 27 and Aug 5. It was represented by 53 nations and the Malaysian team finished in seventh place.

The Malaysian World Schools Debate Team – comprising Aaron Luke, 19, Kishen Sivabalan, 15, Evan Wong, 18, Nishanth Selvalingam, 19, Amrit Agastia, 18 and Deborah Wong Kai Wai, 18 – won six out of eight preliminary rounds, beating nations like China, Sri Lanka, Slovenia and Qatar.

The Malaysian team overcame tournament favourites England in Round 16 before losing to the eventual runner-up team from Canada.

Team members Kishen, Aaron and Nishanth were ranked first, second and third best speakers in the English as Second Language (ESL) category.

Kishen was also ranked an impressive seventh best overall speaker in the world, while Aaron and Nishanth ranked 11th and 13th best speakers respectively.

The team was under the guidance of coach Don Siron Pereira, who is the Malaysian Institute for Debate and Public Speaking (MIDP) training and development head. He is also a research officer in the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“The world championship is very competitive. It is evident that some strong teams sometimes do not fare well because they don’t come together as a team.

“But I’m proud to say that team spirit is something that Team Malaysia will always have – it is an aspect that is given emphasis in our training module,” Pereira added.

MIDP is recognised as the national debates council in partnership with the Education Ministry.

It has been responsible for selecting, training and funding the Malaysia WSDC team since 2012.

MIDP chairman Iqbal Hafiedz Ahmed Bazari said: “Malaysia is among the top debating nations in the world. This country has a mature debating community, and we are privileged to have that kind of exposure.”

“We select 15 to 20 candidates and send them for tournaments for six months. After that, we re-evaluate them for the final selection.

“We believe that if there are talents out there, they deserve some sort of training before being evaluated for the final time,” added Iqbal Hafiedz.

Rising star and youngest team member Kishen said it was a good experience, being his first time joining an international tournament.

“Through debates, I got to know people from all over the world. It has taught me to be more respectful and sensitive to the views and beliefs of other people.”

On receiving his awards, he said, “Even though it was an award I received individually, it is reflective of the entire team’s effort.”

Team captain Aaron Luke said the team was the product of an excellent system.

“This system brings out the best in individuals. I feel that the team from Malaysia is only going to get better.”

Education Ministry (Co-curri-cular and Arts Division) senior principal assistant director Mohd Anuar Abdul Hamid said that out-of-classroom activities aim to develop students in a wholesome manner.

He also said that the Ministry has found a good partner in MIDP. “We have achieved so much in just two years. In years to come, we hope to achieve even more,” added Mohd Anuar.

“The education blueprint leans toward higher order thinking skills – a skill clearly shown in debate,” said the division’s assistant director Norazmah Mohd Yunos said.

“These students are good examples of how we want Malaysian students to be. We are not only proud of their achievements in the tournament, but as individuals too.

Malaysia currently ranks top 10 in the WSDC league and is poised to be promoted from Grade B to Grade A in the WSDC rankings, joining the likes of Canada, England and Australia in the highest tier of international school debating.

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