– Rajiv Kacholia is an alumnus of Stanford University, former US State Debate Champion, and founder of Speech and Debate India
Teaching children to debate nurtures the 21st century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration
As many traditional jobs performed by homo sapiens are being replaced by automation, there is increasing urgency to nurture 21st century skills within children to prepare them for a constantly evolving and changing jobs marketplace. The US-based Institute for the Future forecasts that 85 percent of our children’s future careers have not yet been invented. The world’s top-ranked universities and employers list the skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity as game-changers for success in the 21st century.
However, acquiring these new-age skills is much more difficult in adult life. There is mounting research evidence that these skills must be nurtured from young age. For instance, NASA researchers have found a surprisingly high level of creativity in five-year-old children, with 98 percent classified as “creative geniuses”. But then their genius plummets through traditional schooling to only 30 percent by middle school and then drops to 12 percent by high school and finally to 2 percent when they attain adulthood. Creativity is the energy source of entrepreneurial pursuits and success prerequisite in modern corporates and businesses.
An ancient Socratic art that enables children to develop creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills, is debate. It empowers children to learn to put forward cogent, evidence-backed arguments and disagree and engage constructively with people with differing views. Here are the numerous benefits of children developing the art of debate.
Academic boost. Researchers in the United States have found that debate stimulates and supports children’s academic and cognitive development. This includes improvements in writing speed, reading and comprehension, listening, note-taking, research, data analysis, evidence-based reasoning, and overall academic performance.
Essential life skill. Several studies have highlighted that many debaters value their debating experience as the highlight of their educational years, and that the time invested pays dividends in academic efficiency and life skills gained. It shapes the personality of children by polishing their collaboration and leadership skills, while providing unique opportunities to develop communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
Collaboration and leadership skills. Debate teaches children the art of collaboration, leadership, and persuasion as they prepare with teammates by dividing tasks, researching, and negotiating how they will consolidate their findings collectively as a unified team.
Communication skills. Communication is not just the words chosen to express ourselves, but also the body language, delivery, and emotions. Debate enables children to overcome fear of public speaking, learn voice modulation and the art of critical reasoning. Students can be nurtured to gradually share thoughts in interactive discussions, and small group debates, encouraging them to become comfortable with teammates in a controlled environment.
Critical thinking. The process of researching and advancing logical arguments develops deep thinking and self-awareness as students learn to articulate their viewpoints, using evidence and logic, rather than simply expressing opinions casually. Students learn patience and the importance of listening attentively to opponents, while thinking critically to define questions that will challenge assumptions. These are life skills that help in the classroom, as well as in developing a life-long attitude of respect and openness to other viewpoints that become important in entrepreneurship and workplaces.
Creativity. Creativity is another key judging standard in debate as students deploy it to formulate out-of-the-box proposals and innovative solutions to real-world issues, whether in healthcare, education, climate change, technology, business and entrepreneurship, government, or other social impact areas.