As a passionate debater with over 3 years of competitive experience and a summer full of opportunities ahead of me, I decided to use my skills to make a real social impact. I recognized the immense privilege I had as a student at a school that provided me opportunities to attend weekly workshops, participate in competitions, and receive professional training. Many students do not have the resources to access debating and often lack the information to pursue competitive debating even if they are interested. I believe debating can have an incredible impact for students, especially for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It provides crucial public speaking and communication skills, as well as teamwork and leadership. Additionally, it can be a crucial addition to a student’s CV, allowing to access opportunities through university. It was the desire to overcome these boundaries that drove me to create the Art of Debating program last summer: A debating organization which seeks to introduce more students to debating and make the benefits of debating more accessible to students from underprivileged backgrounds.
First, I organized a debating camp that was run alongside an existing nonprofit computer science summer program that I am a part of known as PACT. 12 students from that program attended my camp and came from multiple different parts of the world including India, North America, Africa, and Russia. Overall, the program was a great success! In fact, two of the students from the camp went on to participate in the Windsor Juniors Debating Competition, which is one of the most prestigious schools competitions in the UK, and were the top Novice Speakers. One of those students additionally went on to start a debate program at her own high school. Another student who was inspired by the summer program decided to organize his own debating competition which I served as an advisor and chief adjudicator to. I have also organized the second iteration of the summer program and confirmed with the PACT organization that I can run the debate camp for the PACT students yet again.
Additionally, I created a website (artofdebating.com) where I have posted articles about debating fundamentals as well as providing information for students that want to participate in competitive debating tournaments but do not know where to start. In order to help expand the reach of my program, I also entered the Social Impact Prize through which Ms. Mehta, who is the school’s social impact mentor, came to know of my idea and offered me the chance to discuss my plan with her to help develop and implement it. Following discussions with Ms. Mehta and Mr. Harrison, who is the master-in charge of the school’s debating society, I contacted Ms. Matheson, who is the school’s Thames Valley Learning Partnership Coordinator, to discuss the possibility of expanding the Art of Debating program to state schools that are a part of Eton’s network. We have contacted schools that are a part of the TVLP network to offer opportunities for students to participate in debate workshops led by Eton’s Debating Society and have already received enthusiastic responses from schools such as St Joseph’s Catholic High School. The workshops are set to begin at the start of the Summer Half.
Throughout this process, not only was I able to introduce the art of debating to several ambitious and hard-working students, but in many ways, I was able to improve my own debating skills. As I saw my students gradually speak with more confidence and analytical rigor, my own confidence in being able to teach and share my knowledge grew. The initial appeal that drove me to pursue debating was the opportunity that it gave me to use my voice and views for good – to discuss pressing social issues of great importance. As I saw my guidance make a tangible impact on my own students’ confidence in being willing to share their own views and ideas, I came to realize that the same skills that I used to win competitions on weekends could be used to make a truly positive impact on others’ lives.
Furthermore, I realized that the impact of my work would extend far beyond what I could ever have hoped for. While I was able to reach out to a select 12 students and help improve their communication skills, teamwork, and leadership through debating, the influence of my initiative to expand the reach of debating will not just stop with my own students. As their own initiatives in starting debate programs at their own schools and organizing their own competitions demonstrate, the value of community service and outreach is self-replenishing and self-fulfilling. The true magic of service is that a small spark can inspire many more to take on that very task and create a momentous impact. It is my hope that many thousands of more students will be able to access debating through this process of expansion and organic growth.
– Hasit Nanda