College students have to be extra smart during ‘parliamentary debating’
Parliamentary debating is an appropriate symbol of college culture. A fiercely competitive, high-pressure form of debating, it is drastically different from the conventional, prepared variety at the school level.
The general format of parliamentary debate follows the ‘All Asians 3-on-3’ style between two teams – the Proposition (or Government) and the Opposition. Each team has three speakers who engage in a battle of wits and demolition of the opponent’s arguments. Two speakers lay down the policy and finally, the “whip” summarises the team’s arguments.
The teams are allowed only 20 minutes of preparation time before each debate. The topics are generally based on a wide range of themes, including International Relations, Sports, Economics, Elections and Sci-Tech. Corresponding motions are framed, such as “This House would introduce cricket in the Olympics”, “This House would do an ‘Australia’” and “This House would reward people who have lived healthy lifestyles.”
A unique aspect of parliamentary debating is that the onus is upon the Government to define and contextualise the motion in a time frame or location. So, the motion on rewarding those living healthy lifestyles could be taken to mean that “this House,” the “Government of the United States,” would put smokers at the bottom of the lung transplant list as they have not lived healthy lifestyles. The debate that ensues would be based on the U.S. standpoint on the principles of equality, benefits that could accrue to society and arguments against the arbitrariness of such policies. These debates are judged by students, and the entire affair is a continuous assessment of argumentation and analysis of the speakers.
Parliamentary debating can be found both academically intriguing and culturally enriching on a number of levels. For one, by facilitating extended policy-based discussion, it can be instrumental in crystallising student views on important policy matters and gives students a nuanced understanding of world affairs. It also provides a potent opportunity for students to consider different perspectives on matters as they frequently come across other schools of thought that invariably have arguments of a different perspective. Challenges posed by unexpected arguments add character to debates and further hone the power of analysis of the student body.
Parliamentary debating also provides an opportunity for students to mingle with each other, both intellectually and culturally, at the national and international level; students get ample opportunities to meet at frequently-held national and international debates.
This form of debating has grown to become a passion and a legacy, which has resulted in many debaters growing to become public servants. It has grown out of its position as an extracurricular activity and found an indispensable place in the lives of college students, giving it hope for a rich future and a possible introduction in a bigger way.
(The writer is a student of National Law School India University. This article is a precursor to the seventh edition of the National Law School Parliamentary Debate, being held on their campus from October 29 to November 2)