Doing a world of good
A talented debater hopes to pass on his skills and enhance Hong Kong students’ critical thinking and global understanding, writes Mabel Sieh.
There is more to debating than simply expressing opposing views in a competition, or being able to argue logically, or speak well, says James Lo Yuen Fai, who came seventh at this year’s World Schools Debating Championships in Turkey.
The former Diocesan Boys’ School student, 18, who has captained Hong Kong’s national debating team for the past three years, believes debating is a vital way of thinking that helps you become a better world citizen.
James, who has won a full scholarship – awarded by the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund – to study government at Britain’s London School of Economics from September, hopes to improve the skills of Hong Kong’s debaters through Flashpoint, his non-profit platform offering free training.
“Debating training allows you to become knowledgeable about social issues around the world, and become a global citizen,” says James, whose International Baccalaureate score put him among the top 1 percent worldwide.
He has spent the past 12 months of his gap year trying to realize his vision – to offer his debating knowledge to Hong Kong’s students, especially those at local schools.
“Students at elite schools, and those from well-off families, will usually have more opportunities to receive extensive or private lessons in debating,” he says. “Flashpoint welcomes all students, regardless of their background.”
Flashpoint is running a training course this month, taught by 48 top Hong Kong debating students. So far, 388 students from 22 different schools have signed up.
The course teaches debating formats and techniques, and discusses popular topics including domestic politics, environmental issues, economics and international relations. It ends on July 27 with a one-day debating tournament.
Natalie So Tsz-Ching, 18, a fellow member of the Hong Kong national debating team, is helping to organise the course. The Diocesan Girls’ School graduate, who captained her school debating team and trained junior students, was best speaker at local tournaments and coached the championship- winning team at last year’s SCMP- Nesta Debating Competition.
She says debating has improved her analytical skills and trained her to see both sides of issues. “The training develops your critical- thinking skills about how to approach a topic in an unbiased way,” she says.
James says: “Debating helps you to develop a global view, and a deeper understanding and tolerance towards people of different backgrounds. This mindset is something we need.”
Rosemary Ho Sik-suen, 17, of Baptist Lui Ming Choi Secondary School, is taking part in this summer’s Flashpoint course. Rosemary, who has debated at school and competed in the Nesta- run competition, says Flashpoint’s training is very useful.
“There’s no formal training at our school, and I need to train the junior form students next year, so I have to brush up my skills,” she says.
“The discussions held by the course tutors were stimulating; they’re all very knowledgeable and helped me to deepen my understanding of many issues. They’ve gone through the same experiences and competitions, so they’re able to understand our needs and mistakes more than the big coaches.”