Malaysia has stu­dent de­baters who are mak­ing waves on the in­ter­na­tional stage

New Straits Times - - News -

THE event was the Sixth Manch­ester In­tel­lec­tual De­bate (MID). The ex­pe­ri­ence was both en­ter­tain­ing and re­fresh­ing, leav­ing me ex­hil­a­rated to find that pub­lic speak­ing was truly well and alive among our stu­dents.

The ex­change be­tween the com­pet­ing teams and the man­ner ar­gu­ments were de­liv­ered had left me with so much to think about dur­ing the train jour­ney back to Lon­don.

It brought me back to the days when I used to tag along with my big sis­ter to watch her stand be­fore an au­di­ence and speak with so much con­vic­tion and con­fi­dence. I had al­ways been in awe of peo­ple who could do that — stand in front of an au­di­ence of more than 10 and not have their knees turn into jelly with mem­ory that de­cided to go AWOL.

Prior to her pub­lic speak­ing for­ays in town halls and schools in our area, my sis­ter had weeks, if not months of prepa­ra­tion; she jot­ted down notes on pieces of pa­pers, prac­tis­ing with punch­ing the air in front of the mir­ror and voice pro­jec­tion in the bath­room.

It was dur­ing Bu­lan Ba­hasa Ke­bangsaan, lead­ing to the Merdeka cel­e­bra­tion.

Whizzing through ef­fort­lessly, rep­re­sent­ing our school in the small town of Yen in Kedah, my sis­ter man­aged to reach the state-level com­pe­ti­tion, bring­ing back a tro­phy for be­ing the run­ner-up in pub­lic speak­ing.

We duly went to the stu­dio to have our pic­ture taken to re­mind us of this vic­tory.

Yen, in my mind then, was in­deed the place to learn pub­lic speak­ing.

The town, at the best of times were full of men from our neigh­bour­ing coun­try, sell­ing tra­di­tional medicines re­trieved from the jun­gles.

They could talk and talk, and sell coal to New­cas­tle. Yen, in the 1960s, also pro­vided the po­lit­i­cal back­drop to a small com­mu­nity of ex­iled Acehnese, who marched and spoke with such gusto against the first Pres­i­dent of In­done­sia Sukarno.

We used to hang around and hear their fiery speeches to “Ganyang Sukarno”.

Po­lit­i­cal aware­ness un­wit­tingly seep­ing in, I was suit­ably im­pressed to hear them speak.

The next time I was suit­ably im­pressed was when I watched the de­bate be­tween Khairy Ja­malud­din, the present youth and sports min­is­ter, and PKR’s Rafizi Ramli at a stu­dents’ event in Lon­don some years ago.

The au­di­ence was mes­merised, as the ex­change be­tween the two took place with such clar­ity and con­fi­dence, mi­nus per­sonal spats and emo­tional el­e­ments that were ex­pected from two po­lit­i­cal fig­ures from dif­fer­ent ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trums.

Those were the skills that I found im­pres­sive and rare. I took a lot back from the ex­pe­ri­ence and I be­lieve many oth­ers in the au­di­ence, too.

MID, or­gan­ised by Malaysian univer­sity stu­dents in the United King­dom, of­fered the only plat­form for in­tel­lec­tual com­pe­ti­tion among Malaysian stu­dents in the UK, giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss crit­i­cal is­sues re­lated to na­tion build­ing.

This com­mend­able event and many other ac­tiv­i­ties sup­ported by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, such as the Malaysian Ini­tia­tive held in Cardiff a month be­fore this, cer­tainly helped in pro­mot­ing an­a­lyt­i­cal and crit­i­cal think­ing among the stu­dents and in­still­ing the cul­ture of re­spect­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing dif­fer­ent views and ideas.

We were gath­ered in the Stu­dents Union Hall for the finals be­tween two teams de­bat­ing in English and two teams de­bat­ing in Malay.

The fi­nal­ists had been at it for two days, with the prepa­ra­tion started in Oc­to­ber last year.

Com­ing right af­ter what was an emo­tional and frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at the Peo­ple’s Tri­bunal on the fate of the Ro­hingya in Myan­mar, I was de­lighted to hear the dif­fer­ent views be­ing de­bated by the English team on Asean’s non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist pol­icy.

Much was said about why mem­bers of Asean had kept a dis­tance from say­ing or do­ing any­thing about the fate be­falling the Ro­hingya.

The op­po­si­tion, with speak­ers from Cam­bridge and the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics (LSE), need­less to say, stole the show from the be­gin­ning as they me­thod­i­cally and strate­gi­cally de­mol­ished the mo­tion pro­posed by the “gov­ern­ment” party from Team UCL that Asean’s non-In­ter­ven­tion­ist pol­icy had served more harm than good.

The Cam­bridge LSE team, in their black suits against the black back­drop of the stage, cer­tainly out to im­press, put up a very im­pres­sive fight to win, com­pared with the more ca­su­ally dressed gov­ern­ment team.

And, win they did, tak­ing back with them the cov­eted High Com­mis­sioner’s Chal­lenge Tro­phy and £500 (RM2,750)!

The judges were in the un­en­vi­able po­si­tion of choos­ing the best speaker for, in­deed, there were a few from both teams.

This year, the Best Speaker for the in­di­vid­ual round for the English cat­e­gory went to Thevesh Theva, an Eco­nomics stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge.

I guess it came as no sur­prise as Thevesh was in­deed blessed with the gift of the gab.

Googling him, I found a young Thevesh, head full of hair, be­ing hon­oured as the Au­di­ence Choice World Cham­pion for the English Speak­ing Union In­ter­na­tional Pub­lic Speak­ing Com­pe­ti­tion in Lon­don in 2013.

He was one of the six fi­nal­ists in the an­nual com­pe­ti­tion and had en­gaged the au­di­ence with his im­pres­sive con­tent and de­liv­ery as well as hav­ing the au­di­ence and the judges in stitches with his wit.

Four years and mi­nus hair later, Thevesh held court once again in Manch­ester.

“It was an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence, be­ing able to dis­cuss ideas with some great, great com­peti­tors,” said Thevesh, who stressed that lots of read­ing and re­search­ing were cru­cial to win points.

He added that the train­ing to be­come de­baters was done over years and years of en­gag­ing in the ac­tiv­i­ties, de­vel­op­ing the style and learn­ing to dis­agree re­spect­fully.

“De­bat­ing is a way of life. You grad­u­ally grow into it, but never re­ally mas­ter it fully be­cause there is al­ways some­thing new to learn,” he added.

“We were de­baters at Kolej Tuanku Jaa­far,” said Im­ran Ma­teo, a law stu­dent.

“When you read the news, you think you know it, but when you de­bate the finer points of the is­sues, then you re­alise what’s hap­pen­ing,” said Aaron Luke, who had been de­bat­ing since he was 15 at SMK Da­mansara Utama, Pe­tal­ing Jaya.

“We had train­ers and coaches and the alumni of the school would do it from the good­ness of their heart.

“They teach you to ar­gue and chal­lenge ideas.”

The cham­pi­onship for the Ba­hasa Malaysia cat­e­gory went to the Team Manch­ester A: Mohd Syafiq Zolke­ply, Amirul Asyraf Ah­mad Sabri, Anand Phraseart Ma Noon and Muham­mad Muham­mad Mahdi.

Be­ing the op­po­si­tion, they gave plau­si­ble ar­gu­ments against the mo­tion “TN50 Bukan Su­atu Madah Ber­he­lah”.

Ac­cord­ing to Anand, a Mecha­tronic Engi­neer­ing stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester, who won the Best Speaker prize for Ba­hasa Malaysia, he was con­tacted two months ago to join the team.

“I did not know them be­fore this, but we had train­ing via Skype,” he said.

Khairy would be proud of th­ese win­ners and the rest of the de­bat­ing teams in this year’s MID. He had said the cul­ture of de­bat­ing was the way for­ward.

It was in­deed en­cour­ag­ing to note that Malaysia had a vi­brant de­bat­ing com­mu­nity amongst the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, with some of them mak­ing head­lines and the coun­try proud for be­ing cham­pi­ons on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Manch­ester In­tel­lec­tual De­bat­ing cham­pi­ons in the English cat­e­gory are (from left) Im­ran Ma­teo, Thevesh Theva and Aaron Luke from the Cam­bridge LSE team.

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