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A Witty War of Words

10 Aug 2007

Jazlyn Chua

Second proposition speaker Jazlyn Chua from ACJC delivers an impassioned plea.

“Because I am a woman, for every one dollar that a man earns, I get 71 cents,” opened Jazlyn Chua of Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC). “I don’t stand for that, and I hope you don’t either!”

Jaslyn’s impassioned plea, as the second proposition speaker for “Affirmative Action in Response to Historical Injustices”, exemplified the vocal prowess and reasoned precision shown at the grand finals of the 2007 MOE Invitational Debating Championship (MIDC). The students certainly didn’t pull any punches when it came to scrutinising the issues in lively verbal exchanges.

The MIDC finals were the climax of a championship series that kicked off on 21 July with a preliminary round involving 20 schools. Unlike its predecessor the Junior Colleges Debating Championship, the MIDC is not only for JCs - Integrated Programme (IP) schools and international schools can also now join the fray.

Evelyn Woels, Curriculum Planning Officer for MOE’s Curriculum Planning & Development Division (CPDD), explains that the renamed competition “reflects the changing national education landscape” where pre-university students now have a choice of IP schools, as well as Specialised Independent Schools, such as the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science. While these institutions are not JCs, they also offer post-secondary/A Level curricula.

MIDC also has the aim of fostering inter-school ties, so MOE extended the floor to a wider field to reflect the “Invitational” element. Schools such as United World College and Anglo-Chinese School (International) have been taking part, and this year the Australian International School made its MIDC debut.

At the quarter-finals and semi-finals held in rapid-fire in late July 2007, the 20 participating schools were whittled down to just four. To reach the finals, ACJC topped Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) while Raffles Junior College (RJC) edged out St. Andrew’s Junior College in two close and hard-fought contests.

Nicholas Tan and Arun Vignesh

Nicholas Tan of ACJC (left) takes issue with a point raised by Arun Vignesh of RJC.

Electrifying exchanges

In the closing match that took place on 4 August, ACJC engaged RJC in a burst of intense speeches and razor-sharp repartee. The teams delivered detailed analyses of affirmative action, in turn justifying (for the proposition) and tearing apart (for the opposition) the policy using numerous examples from political systems across the world.

Judging the session wasn’t easy either. Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, Mark Gabriel, Vice-President of the Debate Association of Singapore, captured the likely sentiments of the rapt audience when he noted, “There wasn’t a lot to choose between these teams.” The strength of the speakers and their arguments “made it difficult for the adjudicators to figure out which team had the edge.”

The adjudicators were split, but the final bell rang for the opposition team of Aaron Chee, Arun Vignesh and Tan Juanhe of RJC over Jazlyn Chua, Nicholas Tan and Tamojoy Chatterjee of ACJC. Arun Vignesh was named Best Speaker of the day, while Aaron Chee took the Best Speaker title for the entire championship.

Aaron Chee

Fluid verbosity helped Aaron Chee of RJC win the overall Best Speaker award.

Talking the walk

It’s no surprise that the RJC team revealed a deep love for battles of the wit. As Aaron said after their win, “We’ve been involved in debates since secondary school.” He and his teammates, all in JC1, wasted no time in attending the college’s selection trials earlier this year.

However, that was when they found that JC debating was quite a different kettle of fish from what they were used to. “The JC environment is more competitive,” said Arun, “as most of the arguments need to be more sophisticated.”

The route to becoming the first MIDC winners wasn’t exactly a breeze. “A lot of the debates we had were very close,” recalled Arun. “The other team members are of a very high quality.” Added Juanhe, “One very challenging element was that most of the debates were impromptu - we had only one hour to prepare our arguments!”

RJC MIDC debate team

The winning team from RJC (from left): Sarah Chua, Alexander Woon, Tan Juanhe, Aaron Chee and Arun Vignesh. Holding up the trophy is coach Jonathan Pflug (with RJC's teacher-in-charge of debate, Ms Umarani).

Compounding the challenge were the difficult motions set by the house, which covered current affairs such as globalisation, social inequity and the Middle East crisis. These topics, reflected Juanhe, “required a lot of contextual knowledge and more nuances in the arguments.”

To make the most of the hour available to prepare, the team stuck to strict time-frames in which they brainstormed, constructed a case and discussed rebuttals. “Coming up with a schedule and sticking to it helps a lot in making sure you get things done,“ shared Juanhe. “At the same time you won’t get too anxious because you know you have this set amount of time to finish a particular piece.” And what a roaring good finish it was.

Watch the debate finals on Google Video: Part 1 (52 minutes) and Part 2 (24 minutes).

MIDC Finals Part 1

MIDC Finals Part 2