Not to be confused with World Universities Debating Championship.
The World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) is an annual English-languagedebatingtournament for high school-level teams representing different countries.
In recent years, the championships have involved teams from over 50 nations each year.
The championships were first held in 1988 in Australia, as part of the Australian Bicentenary celebrations. Members of the Australian Debating Federation were aware that the World Universities Debating Championship was to be hosted by the University of Sydney in January that year, but no similar event for high school students existed at the time. However the rapid growth of the university championships since its founding in 1981 showed the potential for international debating competitions. Christopher Erskine took on the task of organising the first world schools championships, which was then called the Bicentennial International School Students Debating Championships. Six countries competed in the inaugural tournament – Australia, Canada, England, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States. The teams flew into different cities in Australia for their first debates, before meeting-up in Canberra for the second week of the competition. The event was ultimately won by Canada, who defeated Australia in the Grand Final.
The success of the 1988 event saw Canada offer to host the second championship two years later in 1990. That year, the event was called the World Debating Championships. Seven teams took part in the 1990 competition, with first-time participants Scotland emerging as champions.
In 1991, the championships were held in Edinburgh, and the event took on its present name of the World Schools Debating Championships. Since then, the championships have rapidly grown in size.
Each nation is entitled to enter one team. As with some other international competitions (such as the FIFA World Cup), the nations of the United Kingdom are allowed to take part individually, as are dependent territories (such as Bermuda) and special regions of some countries (such as Hong Kong).
All debates in the championship are in English. This is for practical reasons, but it means that many countries debate in what is for them a foreign language. This has not stopped a number of these teams being very successful. Pakistan, for example, has reached the Grand Final twice; while the Philippines, Argentina, Peru, Greece and Israel have all reached the semi-finals. Special awards have been introduced for the highest-ranked teams made-up of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) and English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) speakers.
To show that debate is universal, hosts in non-English-speaking nations have often showcased demonstration (non-competition) debates in their own language during the championships. A notable example was in Lima in 2003, where the teams from Argentina and Peru gave a demonstration debate in Spanish (but in the World Schools style) in the Congress of Peru chamber.
World Schools Debating Championship debates use a special format known as 'World Schools Style Debating'. This is a combination of the British Parliamentary and Australian formats, designed to meet the needs of the tournament. Each debate comprises a total of eight speeches delivered by two three-member teams (the Proposition and the Opposition). Each speaker delivers an eight-minute speech; then both teams deliver a "reply speech" lasting four minutes, with the last word being reserved for the Proposition. Between the end of the first and the beginning of the last minute of an eight-minute speech, the opposing party may offer "points of information". The speaker may refuse these, but should take at least one or two points during his or her speech.
The style of debate was originally a compromise and not used apart from the championship. However, the style has since been embraced by many countries for their national competitions, including Australia, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Lithuania, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Slovenia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Wales.
The WSDC normally takes place over the course of ten days. Each national team competes in eight preliminary debates: four prepared debates (the motion having been announced a few weeks before the start of the tournament) and four impromptu debates (for which teams have one hour to prepare). Once the eight preliminary rounds have been completed, the 16 best teams compete in knock-out debates (known as the Octofinals) culminating in a Grand Final. For each debate, three judges (or more in later rounds) mark each debater on his or her style, content and strategy.
A notable difference between WSDC and the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships – the other major international competition of its type – is that WSDC's primary focus is on ranking each country's team as opposed to its individual participants.
Charter of the World Schools Debating Championships
The aims of the World Schools Debating Championships are:
- To encourage and advance the education of young people in communication skills through conducting debating events.
- To achieve excellence in debating by young people through annually conducting the World Schools Debating Championships.
- To promote international understanding and free speech through debating to help young people develop their capabilities that they may grow to full maturity as individuals and members of society.
In order to further these aims, all participating nations agree that:
- The team of any participating nation may be required to debate any issue.
- The team of any participating nation may be required to debate against the team of any other participating nation.
- The team of any participating nation is entitled to take part in the Championships on the same basis as any other participating nation’s team.
|2017||Singapore||England||South Africa & United States||Bali, Indonesia|
|2016||England||Canada||Australia & Hong Kong||Stuttgart, Germany|
|2015||Singapore||Canada||Australia & Pakistan||Singapore|
|2014||England||South Africa||Canada & Ireland||Bangkok, Thailand|
|2013||Australia||Swaziland||Ireland & Singapore||Antalya, Turkey|
|2012||Scotland||Wales||England & Philippines||Cape Town, South Africa|
|2011||Singapore||Australia||Ireland & Scotland||Dundee, Scotland|
|2010||Canada||England||Singapore & Wales||Doha, Qatar|
|2009||New Zealand||England||Greece & Singapore||Athens, Greece|
|2008||England||New Zealand||Greece & Scotland||Washington DC, United States|
|2007||Scotland||Singapore||Canada & England||Seoul, South Korea|
|2006||Australia||Ireland||Canada & Singapore||Cardiff, Wales|
|2005||Australia||England||Argentina & Pakistan||Calgary, Canada|
|2004||Australia||South Africa||England & Greece||Stuttgart, Germany|
|2003||Australia||Singapore||England & Scotland||Lima, Peru|
|2002||Ireland||Australia||England & Scotland||Singapore|
|2001||Australia||Scotland||Singapore & South Africa||Johannesburg, South Africa|
|2000||Australia||England||Israel & New Zealand||Pittsburgh, United States|
|1999||Scotland||England||Australia & United States||London, England|
|1998||Australia||Scotland||New Zealand & Peru||Jerusalem, Israel|
|1997||Australia||England||Pakistan & Singapore||Bermuda|
|1996||England||Pakistan||Scotland & Singapore||Canberra, Australia|
|1995||New Zealand||Scotland||Australia & England||Cardiff, Wales|
|1994||United States||Pakistan||Australia & Scotland||New Zealand|
|1993||England||Scotland||Australia & United States||Medicine Hat, Canada|
|1992||New Zealand||Scotland||London, England|
|1991||New Zealand||Australia||Edinburgh, Scotland|
Most successful nations
ESL & EFL awards
Special awards are presented at each year's World Schools Debating Championships to the best-performing English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) and English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) teams. These awards are open to teams from nations where English is not an official national language. To be eligible for the EFL award, a team must be predominantly made-up of students who do not come from English-speaking homes and who do not attend schools where English is used as a medium of instruction. The ESL award is for teams predominantly composed of students who are not first-language English-speakers, but who attend schools where some or all of the teaching is in English.
The EFL award was instituted in 2005. Prior to that, there was just one award for teams from non-English-speaking countries. Before 2005, the WSDC rules stipulated that teams who reached the semi-finals or Grand Final of the championship were not eligible to receive the ESL award. After the EFL award was introduced, the rules were changed so that there was no restriction on teams reaching the semi-finals or Grand Final being able to receive the ESL or EFL award.
English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) Award Winners
English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) Award Winners
Best New Team Award
In some years in which there have been a significant number of nations entering the championships for the first time, an award for the Best New Team has been given to the top-ranking team from one of these nations.
Fanelesibonge S. Mashwama ’17 and Bo Seo ’17 overtook hundreds of opponents to win the 2016 World Universities Debating Championship Sunday, becoming the second Harvard team to clinch the title in three years.
Hosted in Thessaloniki, Greece from Dec. 27- Jan. 4, the 36th world debate championships featured students from more than 250 institutions. Mashwama and Seo’s victory marks the third time a Harvard team has ever won the international competition according to debate coach Joshua P. Zoffer ’14, and comes just two years after Ben D. Sprung-Keyser ’15 and Zoffer won the title in 2014. Harvard sent three pairs of debaters to the tournament.
Mashwama described the sensation of winning as “an odd mix of relief, exhaustion, and excitement.”
“You’re asking your body to do a lot, like concentrat[e], think very fast, b[e] anxious between decisions, so I think we just collapsed,” Mashwama said. “It is physically exacting.”
The tournament followed a British parliamentary style format and competitors received debate topics 15 minutes in advance of each round. In the final round of this year’s championship, Seo and Mashwama argued that “the global poor would be justified in pursuing a Marxist revolution” Seo said.
“I do political theory at school, Fanele is a philosopher, and so we at least knew what the big central ideas were,” Seo said. “But we certainly hadn’t prepped for the poor having a Marxist revolution as a topic.”
As sophomores at the College last year, Mashwama and Seo were finalists in the same competition, an experience that Seo said helped them in this year’s debate. Sarah M. C. Balakrishnan, a Harvard graduate student and one of the team’s coaches, said making it to the finals last year gave Mashwama and Seo an advantage over the other debaters.
“When it came to the end and one team had to shine before the judges, Bo and Fanele had a sense for what went wrong last year, and conversely, what to do this year,” Balakrishnan said.
Fellow debater and president of the Harvard College Debating Union Dhruva Bhat ’17 also competed in the tournament, and said that the debating union was “with them every step of the way, cheering them on.”
Seo also attributed his and Mashwama’s success to the pair’s diversity. Seo and Mashwama are both international students, Seo from Australia and Mashwama from Swaziland.
Zoffer, who won the 34th World Universities Debating Championship with teammate Sprung-Keyser and is a team coach, said Mashwama and Seo form a powerful debating duo.
“They complement each other as debate partners” Zoffer said. “They work incredibly well together...it’s no surprise that they won the World Championship.”
Mashwama and Seo met through debate before even attending Harvard. They first came to know each other in South Africa during high school at an international debate competition.
“I met Bo in Cape Town originally where the 2012 World Schools Championships were...and then in 2013, we met in the finals in Turkey,” Mashwama said. “He was representing Australia, I was representing Swaziland. He ended like first on the tab, I ended second on the tab...so that’s where we met,” Mashwama added, referring to the debate’s ranking system for preliminary rounds.
Mashwama said that he decided to come to Harvard in part because of the College’s debate team; there he decided to form a pair with Seo. Balakrishnan said Seo’s and Mashwama’s debating strategies complement each other well.
“Bo is a really eloquent and probing speaker who is great at excavating big ideas; Fanele, on the other hand, is best at attacking the opposing side's claims and exploring in detail the arguments on the table. Their chemistry is truly amazing, and I've never seen them not on the same page,” Balakrishanan said.
“We’ll be close friends for the rest of our lives,” Mashwama said.
—Staff writer Maria H. Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Fanelesibonge S. Mashwama '17 and Bo Seo '17 were victorious in the 2016 World Universities Debating Championship, becoming the second Harvard team to earn the title in three years. Image courtesy of Manuel J. Adams © Thessaloniki WUDC 2016