Final week’s teaching in Pokhara

After two weeks spent learning the ropes and practicing fervently, this Wednesday and Thursday the children at the Samata School in Pokhara will have their first taste of competitive debating.

It has been literally overwhelming teaching my three classes, with children of all ages (between 10 and 16) and confidence levels contributing intelligently to discussions, games and debates. When I walk around the schoolyard, the fact do many younger students ask if they too can learn how to debate fills me with confidence that our work here is helping to create a lasting culture of debating that will continue long after we’ve departed. This afternoon, the five of us squished into a taxi, we began speculating on which students might like to lead a debating committee in the school.

In truth, as innovative as the Samata Schools are—with the primacy of equality and opportunity at their core—education in Nepal focuses on rote-learning and the memorising of archaic English expressions. As sweet as it is to hear a debater thanking you for “this golden opportunity to make a short speech in support of the motion”, the repetition of such stock phrases has niggled at me. Part of the reason we are teaching these students how to debate is to make them more spontaneous and quick-witted, so they can stand out from the crowd. And there have been many encouraging signs. In my year 8 and year 9 classes, speakers increasingly elicit a few laughs from the floor when they weave subtle humour into their speeches. Other speakers look outside their textbooks for examples of, say, reforestation and the protection of endangered species. Several of my brightest kids invoke and explain concepts like rights and freedoms.

This evening, at the second after-school club, the students were predictably pepped for this week’s competition. They kept asking me how I was going to draw up the teams, whether they would be debating alongside their friends, and how they might improve their speaking styles. In spite of the school examinations they must sit on each morning of the competition, I’m fairly certain they’ll be spending the next twenty-four hours honing their technique and figuring out what style of debater they might be.

If my posts on this blog are low on individual anecdotes, it is only because of the solidarity the students show to each other, and the unity of the teams in each debate. When a member of a particular team is speaking, the opposing team will invariably be whispering to each other, giving each other advice and tapping each others’ shoulders lest they forget to write down a potential piece of rebuttal. With their rich seam of knowledge of their own country and the world outside, and the confidence-boosting skills we are teaching them, I think I might have some future Cabinet Ministers in waiting. Now where’s that constitution and election…?