Raffles Debate Academy Under-14 Debating Championships 2021

By Jason Sutio (22S06U), Lara Tan (22A01B), Mei Feifei (22A13A)

What do you call two people arguing in a sauna? 

A heated debate

However, in the local secondary school debate circuits, things are admittedly less heated. This year, the Raffles Debate Academy Under-14 Debating Championship (known informally as RDAs) took place on 29 and 30 May, seeing 32 secondary schools participate in this annual competition organised by Raffles Institution. 

Helmed by the ‘20-’21 Raffles Debaters Exco and their teachers-in-charge, Ms Umarani, Mr Ashton Tan and Ms Nicole Magno, the competition made its comeback online after a one-year hiatus. 

According to the Chair of Raffles Debaters, Min Sitt Hman (21A01A), “[With the RDAs] conducted online, we were able to expand the tournament from 24 to 32 teams, and included 4 preliminary rounds instead of the usual three. We saw benefit in allowing those newer to the debate circuit to participate.” 

Ryan Wee, one of the head adjudicators for RDAs 2021 and the coach of Raffles Debaters, noted that although the debate circuit had definitely felt the impact of the pandemic, it still translated “quite readily to an online format”. 

Despite the drastic change, he found it inspiring to see how the standards of lower secondary debaters had dramatically improved since he had been in their shoes. He was delighted “to see the energy and passion [the participants] have for debate.” 

The two-day tournament consisted of four preliminary rounds on Day 1 and the quarterfinals, semi-finals and Grand Finals on Day 2. Only Round 1 and the Grand Finals were prepared rounds, whilst the rest were all impromptu. 

For impromptu rounds, debaters, armed with only a dictionary and an almanac, were given an hour to prepare their arguments in response to the motion (topic) being discussed.

This tournament used a modified version of the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) format, with three speakers a side, each speaker making a six-minute speech, as well as an additional reply speech for each side to summarise their winning points in the debate. 

After each debate, adjudicators would give their verdict and feedback, praising the young debaters for their verve and tenacity in tackling each motion. 

“Especially since RDAs is often the first real tournament for many U-14 debaters, we tried to focus on providing helpful and constructive feedback that would hopefully help the students learn and grow.” 

Ryan Wee

The participants whom we interviewed shared that the tournament “allowed [them] to see [their] flaws and strengths”, helping them emerge stronger after two gruelling days.

Fishing for interesting de-baits

Among the many motions disputed, some were particularly interesting, such as ‘This House Regrets the rise of tuition classes in Singapore’ and ‘This House Would make Physical Education an examinable subject in schools’ as both directly related to the debaters’ lives. 

In such debates, anecdotes from students’ everyday lives framed their arguments: “Students cannot run away from math. But they can, and have, run away from exercise.”

One breakout room in particular saw a sharp increase in spectators during the Gold Division Semi-finals: the room that hosted Raffles Institution (RI; Proposition) and Raffles Girls’ School (RGS; Opposition), adjudicated by a panel of ex-Hwa Chong Institution debaters. One adjudicator remarked that he was “pleased to join this Hwa Chong panel to judge this inter-Raffles debate.”

The two Rafflesian teams clashed over the motion ‘This House Regrets the narrative in Singapore that hard work leads to success’ through looking at its implications on individuals and society. The teams were also required to deconstruct the complex idea of a ‘narrative’, although some observers felt this demand was not quite met. 

With a 3-2 split, the RI team narrowly edged out the RGS team to advance to the Grand Finals where they faced the team from Hua Yi Secondary School (HYSS). 

At the end of day 1, HYSS’ team had maintained a winning streak of 6 out of 6 rounds that they participated in. Due to their excellent preliminary results, they were moved from the Silver Division to the Gold Division where they advanced to the Grand Finals, eventually winning First Runners Up. 

The winning team from RI shared that they found the experience to be extremely enriching. 

Being the first major tournament in our secondary school life, this unexpected victory has certainly boosted our morale, but at the same time, also taught us a lesson in humility since we had many close calls where we lost or almost lost many rounds.

Debaters from Raffles Institution
Gold Division results.

Silver Division results.

For the Silver Division, Tanglin Trust School (TTS) emerged first. Beyond their impressive results, their humorous use of similes in their reply speeches left a mark on audiences as well: 

“Our opponents’ argument is like a dinner plate in Texas: way over the top”; “The proposition’s argument is like a biscuit dipped in tea: crumbling to pieces”; “The opponents’ argument is like a doughnut: glazed on the outside but hollow in the middle.” 

Whatever would we do without TTS and their banger quotes? 

Debate-litating technical difficulties 

By a mean twist of fate, despite having run 9 hours worth of tech checks on the three days leading up to the tournament as well as another 2 hour dry run on Friday night, technical problems still cropped up throughout the competition. 

For one, participants failed to follow the strict naming conventions laid out by the organising team, much to the chagrin of the technical team who had to painstakingly rename stragglers despite several not-so-friendly reminders. 

Another source of trouble was TabbyCat (the site used for draw tabulation), which had mistakenly paired teams with more wins with those with less. The tabbing team and the tech team hence worked late into the night to manually correct the skewed matchups to ensure the accuracy and fairness of the draws and result. 

The infamous TabbyCat. Not to be confused with… 
Our favourite tabby cat.

At the end of two intense days of debating, one thing was clear: the tournament had been a fruitful one, and Raffles Debaters had once again made sure that despite the pandemic, the show would go on. 

According to Min Sitt, “We couldn’t have done it without each and every one of them [club members]—and I was reminded of how important the people aspect is in any organisation.” 

Ergo for all the above reasons and more, we are very proud to propose that This (Publishing) House Will look forward to the 2022 RDAs.

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