We live in an age of parliamentary democracy. This means every law must be decided in parliament after a thorough or exhaustive discussion. As decisions are taken by a majority of votes it is also necessary to persuade as many members of parliament as possible to vote on a side. Although such persuasion is always not fruitful because most members come to the house with minds made up for them by their various political parties or godfathers, attempts have to be made.
Hence our future politicians (students) must learn how to explain a point of view convincingly and with detailed reasons and how to win over members by an appeal to their personal feelings or to their sense of passion. This is an act which can be learnt in debating societies in schools and colleges. Debating is acquired by practice and the object of debating societies is to provide the student with necessary practice.
In my days in secondary school, there were debating clubs or societies at virtually all the schools. Debating competitions among secondary schools both at the state and national levels were organized and encouraged. Indeed such debates helped students to acquire mastery over the English language and the literary arts. Many science students acquired literary skills as a result of their participation in debate activities. In fact, debating in those days was a feature of college life.
On a due date of a debate competition, classes were suspended before the debate commenced, and the students filed into the school hall and took their seats. It was apparent that a great deal of lobbying had taken place. The pro-mergers and anti-mergers occupied opposite sections of the hall grouped in compact bodies. The neutrals -who were usually few – took their seats as they were attracted by either convenience or friendship. Curiously enough the conservative-minded were mostly pro-mergers; the progressives were almost all against the scheme. That was how it looked in my days.
But today, that has changed. It is hardly possible for debates to be organized at our schools. Even in private schools where the academic standard is considerably higher, debate activities are elusive while debating societies are practically non-existent. The reason is that the routine of most private schools is lecture-packed. There is no room for extracurricular activities.
Government-owned schools are worse. Learning hardly takes place there. The teachers seldom show interest or commitment to the basic activities of the schools. This is usually attributed to the fallen standard of education and, in such situation, there is bound to be little enthusiasm for holding debates. Where such enthusiasm exists, the unwillingness of teachers to join in the debates kills the inspiration.
Since Nigeria operates a constitution which establishes a National Assembly as well as the state legislature, where arguments precede the passage of bills, it has become necessary for debates to be held at schools to prepare students for the task, especially those of them that may end up in politics.
If debate culture can be introduced and strengthened in our primary and secondary schools, it may enhance the quality of arguments and the kind of English language spoken on the floor of our legislative houses in the country.
In view of this, the Rivers State Ministry of Education has to make it mandatory for all primary and secondary schools in the state to establish literary and debating societies. Two or three periods should be set aside every week for these debates and it should be considered a part of the timetable.
A debate is as much a part of education as learning mathematics or physics. Besides, these debates help put our book learning to test; what is learnt in class can be used in supportive or opposing arguments. For instance, a student of physics will have much to say if the subject of a debate is on the usefulness of hydro-electric power. This will be a healthy adjunct to academic work.
It is a good idea to have debates on real problems, preferably on real or contemporary issues. Everyone is interested in such issues and would want to have additional knowledge about them. Such issues may include the fallen standard of education, cultism, militancy, resource control, Boko Haram, abortion, the state of the economy and insecurity etc. To the average Nigerian, all these are of profound interest, and a debate on any of them will assist in clarifying or correcting our notion. It will enliven thought, stimulate interest and develop understanding.
The reintroduction of debating societies and debate competitions in schools will be a hopeful sign of improvement in our education sector. Given the fallen standard of education in our country, universities should also encourage debating competitions. There should be inter-university debating tournaments where selected debaters from universities will pit their talents against one another.
Every effort should be made to encourage students to get some practice in debates and discussions. Academic life will be better for it. And students will learn to be better citizens.
By: Arnold Alalibo.