Friday, January 14, 2011

WDI Reports from World Debate Forum in Africa

By Alfred Snider, WDI Director

The World Debate Forum was held for two days after the WUDC Botswana as an opportunity for those interested in promoting debate in their countries. The original idea was to have a good size group swap ideas, make presentations and network. The hopes were not met but the event was nevertheless a useful one.

The original idea was to have four different sessions, and in each of then have 3-4 presentations followed by questions, and also allow for break-out groups and other discussions. I worked hard to get presentations for my section (education and training) and did succeed in getting four presentations: Bojana Skrt of Slovenia on teacher training, Nur Asia of Malaysia on using debate to develop soft skills, Gavin Ilsley on debate training as a preparation for business consulting, and myself about training debaters (exercises and workshops). These were the only four presentations that took place.

There were 28 people but they represented 18 countries: Botswana, China, Ghana, Korea, Macedonia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Slovenia, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe. People from Macedonia, Poland, United Kingdom and USA had come as part of an Open Society Foundation/IDEA contingent. Logan and Ahyoung Kim were the organizers.

It did not start well as we were told we would leave WUDC at 1 PM, then it was delayed until 5 PM, and then they put us on the wrong bus, and then we took off for a location we did not even know of and that had been not announced. It was the Sedibeng Lodge at the end of a dirt road, and it was fine but without real internet and the restaurant was very understocked and often out of what you wanted. They did have a small pool but it looked a little too green for me.

On the first day Logan changed the start time again (something he seems to do a lot) and the first session was renamed to talk about competitive debate and he led the discussion. It ended up being about lots and lots of things. A spin off discussion about using the Internet was led by David Crane of Debatewise to promote OSI activities that are online. That was an interesting discussion and we heard that 2011 will be the year of the Internet video, but also from the African countries that they simply did not have the bandwidth for videos. I vowed to take a group of 50 videos that would be good for beginner training (we have 1785 debate videos online) and strip the picture out of them and make them available as simple sound files.

The afternoon discussion was led by Alex Dukalkis of IDEA/OSI and dealt with using debate for advocacy. I had to miss part of it to complete some vital emails about my courses starting when I get back, but did join in and shared our programs for public debates and our television advocacy program, Flashpoint.

That was the end of day 1. Bojana and I had been approached the day before by the cook who wanted to prepare us some local cuisine, and we had agreed on a dish. When I went to order it I was informed that she had not come to work that day. When we tried to order other things from the menu we were told they were all out. Frustrated, we got a cab and went to the famous Bull and Bush restaurant, which was a fantastic African barbecue place down at the end of a dirt road, and it was reasonable and very tasty. We came back and went to bed, still tired from WUDC I think.

Day 2 began with our session on debate education and training. Bojana did an excellent presentation about teacher training, which prompted a lot of questions from African debate organizers. I followed with a presentation of basic training exercises and drills along with a description of the "academy" (as in International Debate Academy Slovenia, and Iraq Debate Acaemy, Qatar Debate Academy, and many more). Nur Asia from Malaysia gave a very interesting presentation on the approach at Malaysia's International Islamic University and their program to build "soft skills" in students through debate. Gavin Ilsley of the UK then gave a presentation about using debate skills to engage in business consulting and training after university, and that led to a very interesting discussion about whether we were training ethical communicators or win at any cost competitors. Lunch came next, and after that a "catch all" session led by Logan where we tried to discuss other issues, but the event ended about an hour early as people did not seem to have much more to say. Some Africans expressed mild frustrations, as did I because so few people had organized presentations.

It certainly could have been better, but for my part I learned a lot from African debate organizers about their situation and the challnges they face, I shared my ideas about how to conduct debate training, and I made a lot of good network connections that might lead to some interesting African training opportunities later.

There was some talk about trying to organize another such event linked to WUDC Manila, but I am not sure about that. We shall see. As for me, I am all about doing what I can to promote debate in places were it is new or non-existant.
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