Neih Hou from Hong Kong

After teaching for weeks in a hot, cramped and minimal bamboo classroom in Nepal, it took a moment to get over the initial shock of comfortable teaching conditions and access to facilities beyond a blackboard (chalk was largely of my own provision in Pokhora.) Once the excitement of having a projector had passed, it was clear that despite the modern building and technology, teaching here would have challenges of it’s own.

A show debate on bringing back the death penalty attracted only one speech from the floor, a combination of the language barrier and culturally inherent shyness signalled that we had a tough few days ahead. At the beginning of my first session I wondered if I was faced with the decision of whether the students would like me or learn from me, it didn’t seem that both these things would be possible, as the students would initially act as though I was torturing their pet puppy if I asked them to answer a question in front of the class. Thankfully the students quickly grew comfortable after the combined efforts of individual motivational talks with the shiest students and a few fun games including ‘Honey, I Love You,’ ‘Guess The Style’ and ‘The Balloon Debate.’

In Hong Kong cost is not a direct issue in education, the system works in such a way that the students who perform the best go to the better schools where English is used to teach and the lower scoring pupils end up in poorly funded, Cantonese medium schools. Unfortunately with English being the language used in Universities, prospects are not great for those students who trip up at this first hurdle. This system where unless your parents can pay for a good school or an English tutor to allow you to do well in the initial exams leaves those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale in what seems a hopeless situation. Their future prospects are limited before they even begin to dream of their ideal job. In addition to this problem, the children in the Cantonese speaking schools lack self confidence as they are aware they are not at such a good school. By providing some of the students with both a confidence boost and the communication skills they need to excel in whatever they choose to do, we hope to change this situation for those who were directly involved in the programme and those who will benefit once a Debate Mate club is set up.

Already many of the students have added us on Facebook, eager to continue learning. After an intense four days of teaching the Hong Kong Debate Mate and Intelligence Squared Summer Programme is officially over, but the impact has just begun.