The Great TZ Debaters

June 30, 2014 8:56 pm Published by

One of the greatest joys of this year at Joseph and Mary Academy has been the re-introduction of clubs. In an attempt to enhance our curriculum beyond the traditional Tanzanian syllabi and to continue to mold our students into future leaders with adequate critical thinking, problem solving, and creative skills, we have introduced a weekly club time with a focus on skills not necessarily obtained in a classroom.

Every Tuesday our students enjoy clubs ranging from vocational skills, to arts and crafts, to singing, to drama, to permaculture, journalism and drama. The club that I co-sponsor, Debate, has been working all year to improve students’ confidence in speaking English, public speaking skills, annunciation, and vocabulary through English games and competitions. On occasion, when feeling really mean, we make one of our debaters stand up in front of the club and perform English tongue-twisters with a white-board marker in their mouth (always generates some laughs).

This past month the drama club, led by 7th grade teacher Mr. Freddrick, and in conjunction with secondary school English teacher Mr. Voston, hosted JBFC and Joseph and Mary’s very first “general debate.” Attended by over 150 students, a dozen teachers, several administrators, a couple of curious Masai security guards, a few guests, a couple herders, and four or five cows, the event was one of the largest events held to date at JBFC’s new dining hall.

As a twist, the debate competition was formatted to model the Tanzanian government’s parliament. Mock government officials were elected and the proceedings and traditions of government followed to a T. The President (Eliza) was joined by a Prime Minister (Leticia), Judges (Teddy and Athumani), a Sergeant in Arms, two chair-people (Jackie and Baraka) and various ministers of health, education (Jonas), and finance (Richard Boniface).

The motion for debate- urban life is better than rural life- is an important debate in the lives of the children at JBFC and at Joseph and Mary Academy. For many of them, the topic is not something to simply be debated at school, but a decision that will impact their lives for years to come. After finishing school many of them will be forced to decide whether to stay on the family farm or move to the city to look for employment, to educate their own kids in their home villages or bring them to better schools in the cities, to support development sometimes at the expense of the environment or fight for tighter regulations.

The two sides convincingly debated points such as pollution, access to health care, quality of education, development money, transportation and employment opportunities- topics rarely mentioned here in Tanzanian classrooms. The “proposing side,” arguing that urban life is indeed better than rural life, was deemed the winners at the end of the day receiving 28 points to the “opposing” side’s 17 points.

After the debate I was able to ask a couple of JBFC’s high school girls what they thought of the debate and, more importantly, if they thought it was important and helpful.

According to Liku, the debate “is important so we can continue to learn to be confident in front of people.”
Eliza added that “debate is a chance for us to practice problem solving that we don’t always get.”

Seth Diemond is JBFC’s Campus Director, the Co-sponsor of the Joseph & Mary Debate Club and always quick with a counter-argument.

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This post was written by Mainsprings