In July 2019, Colombo will play host to over 1000 international and local participants when they attend the annual World Schools Debating Championship in Sri Lanka. The 500+ international participants will be hosted by the Debaters’ Council of Sri Lanka, with the 10-day tournament (scheduled from 23 July- 2nd August 2019) spread across venues in Colombo.
The World Schools Debating Championship is the main competitive platform for the cream of the crop from the global high school debating community to compete as national teams. Every year, the championship brings together the best debaters from around the world for 10 days of debate, dialogue and cultural exchange. The students are made to grapple with pressing contemporary issues, and make arguments for and against challenging propositions.Past topics at the Grand Final, for instance, have included whether restrictions on free speech to combat the rise of right-wing populism should be adopted (2017), whether states should be allowed to pay other states to relocate and settle refugees (2016), and whether Governments should provide their citizens with a universal basic income (2015).
These students go on to become leaders in their respective fields of study, which means the championship is effectively a meeting place for the future leaders of the world. Team Singapore, for instance, included Sheng Wu, the grandson of Lee Kwan Yew. This has not gone unnoticed, and many world leaders have themselves been patrons of the championship, including Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
While countries such as Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand have typically dominated the tournament, of late Asian teams such as India, Pakistan, South Korea and even Sri Lanka have proven themselves to be among the top teams at the tournament, with Singapore emerging as the first Asian team to win the competition – in Scotland in 2011. Team Sri Lanka’s performance has improved consistently over the years – after breaking into the octo-final rounds for the first time in 2010, the team managed to break in consecutive years in 2016 and 2017.
In Sri Lanka, the World Schools Debating Championship 2019 will arrive after previous rounds in Bali, Indonesia (2017) and Zagreb, Croatia (2018). It is billed as a “tournament with a difference”. The tournament will showcase Sri Lanka’s stunning diversity whilst also facilitating local school children to attend and experience the intellectual discourse offered by the world’s brightest young minds during the competition. All debates featuring the 55 national teams will take place in local schools in front of student audiences.
In his endorsement of the event, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe underscored the importance of events such as WSDC in cultivating greater international understanding through scholarly debate. The event has also received approval from the Ministry of Education in Sri Lanka. The regional debate councils of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have written to endorse the tournament because it is the first time the event is coming to South Asia.
Avid former debaters and Co-Convenors Tamara Fernando and Manisha Dissanayake are looking forward to WSDC reinforcing the rising popularity of debating among school children in Sri Lanka. “Sri Lanka is at a critical juncture where the ability to have a discussion with different opinions civilly is more important than ever,” says Tamara. Manisha added, “Children are first given an opportunity to hone these skills in school, and we are looking forward to greater engagement from young people before and during the tournament. This will be an amazing opportunity to hear different viewpoints and world views from some of the world’s best debate talent.”
Co-convenor Kithmina Hewage noted that the WSDC 2019 Organizing Committee comprises of former and current debaters, all working on a volunteer basis. “We are all in this because debating is something that has anchored all of us through school, college, and in our professional lives. The chance to bring a WSDC tournament to Sri Lanka is special- while we’re looking forward to two weeks of excellent debate, we’re most excited about being able to bring the platform to school children here.”