Should Debating Be Compulsory in NZ Secondary Schools


From Monday to Friday, the totality of students are forced to learn something that will be completely irrelevant for the rest of their lives. Whether its how to find the point of intersection between a hyperbola and a parabola, or that the Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, the time of students is consistently wasted by subjects that seem useless. However, what if there was a subject that was different from the rest? A subject that could teach us about Problem-solving, quick thinking, clarity of speech, the importance of teamwork and how to effectively use analytics to support your points. This subject is debating. Debating is not only enjoyable but beneficial as well. Unlike a cosine rule, the skills that are developed through debating are applicable in all areas of life. These benefits can be narrowed down to 3 umbrella topics. Firstly, how it affects your brain and your thinking processes. Secondly, how it affects your ability to communicate as well as, lastly, how it affects other skills such as organization.


  1. How it affects your brain and thinking processes:

The focal point of almost every curriculum and school is to educate their students in addition to increasing their thinking abilities. In fact, a study from showed that 10% of all first-year Harvard Students were high school debaters. Such a high percentage of one of the most successful Universities in the world being high school debaters is no coincidence. This high percentage is undoubtedly because of the benefits debating has on its participants. It requires quick thinking, abstract thinking, problem-solving and a creative mindset. It allows for multiple different learning types to create and perform their debates in a method that suits their style of learning and creation.


One of the most obvious of the previously mentioned benefits is quick thinking. In debates, the opposing team will always present an idea that you didn’t see coming, something completely out of the blue, however, it is situations like these that help develop quick thinking. A quote from one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, Richard Branson, states that “The best way of learning about anything is by doing” and that is exactly what debating creates. A method of learning through doing and experiencing. Whether put on the spot by a point of information or by thinking of a rebuttal, debating is always testing and furthering your skills in quick thinking.


Quick, on the spot thinking isn’t the only method that is grown by debating, however, problem-solving and creative thinking are also benefited. For your debate to be successful you must include a solution in relation to the moot or the main topic. It requires you to evaluate the issues within the moot and find a balanced solution that appears as reasonable to the chair. It requires a solution-focused attitude which is not only something that benefits the student’s personal growth but is also something which multiple companies desire in their employees. With competition for jobs increasing at such a rapid rate, that very attitude could potentially be the difference between achieving their dream job or having to settle for the second best option and as they say, second place is the first loser.


2 How it affects your ability to communicate:

Debating has the potential to grow confidence and self-esteem. The thought of face to face communication with a stranger can be absolutely daunting, especially for this “millennial” generation that is becoming increasingly reliant on cell phones. To all of those watching it is an alarming issue yet it is an alarming issue that is not being resolved by NZ education systems. Debating provides a simple method of solution to this dilemma.


To those with a lack of self-confidence, debating is an accessible platform to improve with. A quote from William Jennings Bryan perfectly summarises how debating can benefit its participants. His quote states, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you”. Similar to the aforementioned quote from Richard Branson, this quote emphasises the importance that actually doing has in self-growth. It discusses the fact that facing your fears is the only way to conquer them.


In other areas that require public speaking, students can feel quite isolated as they are the solitary member of their own team. In debating it’s different, each team has a total of 3 members who not only provide support but also share the pressure that public speaking can often have. This can appear more inviting to those with a lack of confidence and will indefinitely benefit thousands of students with their speaking abilities. As we know, speaking is the most frequently used part of NZ’s curriculum. Because of this, it is paramount we begin to grow kiwi’s confidence and strength in the subject through mediums such as debating.


In contrary to public belief, debating’s main focus is not actually the act of arguing. Instead, it’s about getting your point across, or in other words persuasive speech. Persuasive speech is applicable in all areas of life. From attempting to convince your friend that Taylor Swift is the best singer, to applying for a job, we always need to get our point across, no matter what our age or situation. Persuasive speech is not only beneficial in immediate terms but also in the long run too. Placing an emphasis on reasoning rather than arguing would create an immense shift in culture here in NZ. We would eventually see a shift away from the “You’re wrong” attitude which focuses on proving others wrong and more towards “This is why I’m right” which obviously focuses on proving yourself to be correct. This shift will result in a more understanding and mature ability to communicate for all New Zealanders. It may sound far-fetched to say that debating in NZ schools would solve all of New Zealand’s argumentative attitudes, however, I truly believe that with the implementation of debating in NZ secondary schools we will slowly see reasoning begin to replace arguments.


3 Organization:

Organization, one of the most overlooked attributes of almost every successful person to have ever graced this earth. Organization allows for more effective learning, more effective use of resources and can also help relieve stress. It is also an attribute that is developed by debating.


Organizing your various ideas into three main topics and then further into 2 or 3 main paragraphs, is essential to any successful debate. As I have found out the hard way, this is a much harder task than it seems at first. Structuring thoughts into clear ideas for your audience to not only comprehend, but agree with can take a lot of time and skill. Teaching students how to do so through the Debating curriculum is a practical method of passing on these skills. These are not only skills that help students in debating, but skills that help in areas such as job applications and interviews, or really any situation where you are pitching ideas for that matter. This is undoubtedly profitable in situations like meetings, where organizing your ideas into memorable, succinct points is key to having your voice heard.


Often public speaking can cause students to second guess their ability. Good organization skills refrain these thoughts from developing into reality. It ensures that they practise enough not to forget their speech, it makes their key ideas that much clearer and reassures the importance of punctuality. This all results in not only a better product but also a much less stressed student population. An article by Paige Fowler on confirms this, stating that reduction of stress and depression is one of the main benefits that organization provides. This is supported by a separate article from Vanessa Voltolina posted on as well as another from All of the research points towards organization being a major stress relief so why isn’t NZQA getting on board?



Speech, the most used part of NZ curriculum has only one compulsory internal. Speech, the skill needed in every aspect of life, in every job, in most applications, has only one compulsory internal. Personally, I find that completely absurd. Only 4 credits out of a necessary 80 are spent on speech. Through the debating curriculum, we can be taught these skills that are necessary for success. Debating teaches students about organization and allows them to speak with clarity. It places an emphasis on reasoning rather than arguing and, despite contrary belief, is all about persuasive speech. As well as developing these skills, it also builds self-confidence. It acts as a comparatively inviting platform for students to ease their way into public speaking.


To bring it full circle I will return to my very first point about how debating benefits thinking processes. It allows for creative thinking and seriously benefits quick thinking too. The list seems to never finish, an endless flow of benefits, yet why is debating still not compulsory? It becomes increasingly absurd when we make the comparison between debating’s benefits and the benefits of calculus and statistics. These are subjects that are useful to only a handful of jobs however NZQA still decides they are compulsory for the majority of students.


I will leave you with one simple question. Do you believe our education system should make the learning of organization skills, quick, creative thinking and confident, persuasive speech compulsory? My answer is yes and after the points provided today I believe that it is beyond any doubt that debating should become a compulsory part of NZQA’s curriculum.

Respond now!

About Jake Nicholson

Just a 16-year-old doing his best to get Excellence Credits

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