Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 1

As part of a series of articles to prepare for the Singapore Nationals, I had hoped to write an article with my thoughts on the SSSDC Round 1 motions BEFORE the round so that our readers could get some tips on their cases. However, between participating at Singapore Institute of Management Debate Open 2018, coaching two schools for the nationals myself and Chinese New Year, I was unable to put up something beforehand. For Round 2, I will definitely be providing analysis for the motions before the round itself. In the meanwhile I thought It would be useful to provide a brief motion analysis for all 3 motions in round 1 of SSSDC.

Motion 1: THBT all written assignments in secondary schools should be done by computer and submitted electronically.

I’ll have to be brutally honest, this debate motion is simply awful for a few reasons.

  1. The motion creates an artificial false dichotomy. It requires debaters on both sides into an all-or-nothing debate over whether ALL written assignments should be done by computer or (I’m assuming) through writing. In this case, there’s really no reason why we couldn’t have the best of both worlds, or having our cake and eating it. The same criticism can probably be leveled at many other motions as well, though usually there would be very compelling reasons for debaters to argue one way or another.

  2. The motion suffers greatly from a lack of depth, especially in side Opposition where the best arguments mainly involve three things:

    a) Cost of access to computers and inequality
    So, there’s a reason why the fiat rule exists in most varsity formats. If it were simply impossible to enforce an unfeasible policy due to a lack of funds than the entire debate becomes a waste of time. More importantly any debate where both teams end up quibbling about cost is inevitably dreadful and non-comparative. Generally what ends up happening is that one side ends up claiming that money can come from cuts elsewhere (usually military defense) while the other side makes disparaging comments about how people in certain countries are so poor that they are starving (a certain school that shall not be named even claimed that Nigeria should spend its money fighting Boko Haram instead, no joke).

    b) Writing as a superior way of learning through reinforcement
    This is factually true and non-contentious. This is also probably the strongest argument from side Opposition that most teams would spend the majority of their 1st Opposition speech on, especially since they will probably be referencing complex psychology and medical research. Debate is a much more interesting activity when the major arguments and clashes are contentious, instead of just having both sides throw facts at each other. Of course, both teams can probably have a reasoned discussion weighing the pros and cons of both forms of learning but to be honest I’d rather just run some studies and experiments to get some tangible results and observations rather than let both sides assert one way or the other. Did I mention that both methods are probably non mutually exclusive?

    c) The computer as a source of distraction
    I mean, sure, this is probably true, but there are a number of ways to prevent this, such as the school holding administrator privileges such that the child cannot install games, cannot disable safe search and customization internet censorship. In any case, if a teenager has discipline issues I’m not sure they would be less distracted even if they were made to write on pen and paper. I just don’t think this is a particularly strong argument unless your opponents forget to respond to it.

    Dishonourable mention: Some teams may run an argument about saving the environment through reducing paper usage, though that makes no sense given the alternative of providing computer access consumes electricity and leads to electronic waste (plastic and metal parts in computers are rarely recycled). Also the impact on the environment is probably minuscule enough that it becomes almost irrelevant next to the issue of providing better education for the next generation, after all there’s a reason why we provide air-conditioning and ample lighting to students even if it drastically increases their carbon footprint.

    I guess there’s a 0.0000001% chance that I’m missing something here, do feel free to disagree, but I’m really surprised, to put it mildly, that this motion has been recycled a few times over the past few years.

Ok, now that I’ve made it absolutely clear my disdain for this motion, there are a couple of useful learning points which I would like to highlight because after all I’m sure all of you are here to learn more about debate rather than to hear me rant about bad motions.

Even though this motion begins with the preambulatory clause THBT, it is really a debate motion about an educational policy. Note that while the WSDC format does not require teams to set up policies, doing so can help clarify how your team plans to pass the motion. For more information about how to deal with policy motions, click here, and here.

In a previous article, I discussed the importance of utilizing the week long preparation time to do your research before you start formulating your cases and arguments.

This was the policy my students ran with for Round 1:

  1. Government will supply cheap netbooks which cost around $100 dollars for free to all students in public schools, funded by cost savings from stationary, physical textbooks and printing of worksheets.

    I basically came up with this when I found out about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) through some research on Google. They made a $60 touchscreen tablet with an attached keyboard and solar panel. Also, Ngee Ann Secondary the school I’m coaching, also provides subsidized IPads, but I decided to use the OLPC example instead because I was pretty sure not every school or country could afford to provide subsidized iPads.

  2. Every student will be provided with the exact same free netbook, they will only be able to submit their homework through the provided netbook.

    This clause exists to preempt Opposition arguments about inequality. Though it is also adapted from existing programs, where students in schools are generally made to use the same computer/tablet provided for by the school.

  3. The school will retain administrator privileges, students can only install programs with the school’s permission.

    This clause preempts the Opposition argument that students will be distracted by the computer provided and may use it to play games. It is also a fairly common policy for schools which give out subsidized computers to install restrictions for its use, usually including some sort of internet censorship.

  4. Homework and possibly examinations will be done on a lockdown browser, which is already widely used in universities. A lockdown browser is a program which disables functions such as spell check, copy, paste and alternate tab. This will help to
    a) Prevent students from being distracted by surfing the internet or watching Youtube videos
    b) Make it harder to copy and plagiarize

    This is commonly used in universities for timed assignments and examinations and it just makes sense to transplant it into this debate because it solves a lot of problems Opposition may raise. This is the also the reason why I often ask my students to prep for the opposing side, because that can help them to better understand the major attacks they are likely to face before they begin crafting a policy that is less vulnerable to those attacks.

In the article OG is the best G, I shamelessly borrowed World Champion Will Jones’ advice to reference other policies already put in place to model your own policy. In many circumstances motions about policies have probably been proposed or attempted somewhere before and research will serve as a good starting point to craft the perimeters of your policy.


Motion 2: THBT single sex schools should be abolished

Two things to note:

  1. What is the burden of proof for both sides in a debate?
    Any motion about abolishing, which means to put an end to, or do away with something places a pretty high burden on side Proposition to show fundamental problems with the continued existence of what needs to be abolished. It is important for debaters to consider what burdens the motion places on side Proposition and side Opposition.

    Put simply, debaters simply have to consider what each team have to achieve in order to win the debate. This is a deceptively simple question that many debaters nevertheless routinely fail to consider. At the SSSDCs, many teams spent the majority of their time comparing the pros and cons of single sex schools versus co-ed schools, they fail to realize that Proposition can lose the debate even if they are able to show that single sex schools are inferior to coed schools in most circumstances.

    To draw an analogous example, sport schools and music colleges are probably not suitable for a vast majority of students who would likely receive a better education in public schools geared towards academia. However, just because these specialized schools are not catered towards the majority of students doesn’t mean that they don’t provide unique value to the students who enrol and attend such schools. Therefore, instead of considering whether single sex schools are generally better for students as compared to co-ed schools, Proposition should instead consider whether the specific students who enrol in and attend single sex schools would be better off in co-ed schools. In Opposition, it doesn’t matter if single sex schools are suboptimal for most students as long as the students who end up in those schools are better off.

    This also means that Opposition should not be attempting to show that single sex schools are always superior, because they are non-mutually exclusive with coed schools in Opposition. Opposition does not have to prove that co-ed schools should be abolished, they merely need to justify the continued existence of single sex schools by showcasing the unique value they provide to the education system, especially for those who choose to attend them.

    So before either side starts to make claims regarding which schools are better they need to first analyze what are the types of students who usually attend single sex schools and why they/their parents would enrol them in a single sex school, because these are the only group of students which matter in this debate since students already attending co-ed schools in the status quo are unaffected either way.
    (Unless Prop wishes to claim that single sex schools should be abolished so that the resources locked up in those schools could be more accessible to students currently excluded from those schools, which probably isn’t in and of itself a sufficient justification to abolish them anyway)

  2.  How to break deadlocks and win clashes
    For most debate motions, it is not difficult to identify 1 or 2 key clashes (disagreements between  both sides) which will inevitably occur during the debate. For this motion, both sides will probably clash/disagree over whether single sex schools entrench gender binaries and gender role socialization as compared to co-ed schools.

    Proposition may argue that single sex schools tend to be established a long time ago through religious institutions or founders which prescribe certain values and norms for how a certain gender should behave. As a result, these schools conflate sex and gender identity as one and the same and believe that one should determine the other. That is why you will almost always see boys’ schools preaching values of strength, leadership, and professionalism, and girls’ schools promoting humility, servitude and graciousness. Single sex schools encourage the notion that men should occupy positions of power but women should focus on other things, like caring for others. This is dangerous because that gendered language is couched within the values that the school teaches, giving it a veneer of legitimacy. More importantly they don’t evolve over time because old boys and girls who grew up in that environment come back to serve as teachers or be in leadership positions, entrenching and strengthening those gender norms over decades. The lack of interaction with the opposite gender may also serve to entrench the gender binary myth as students submit to gender stereotypes and bigotry due to ignorance and a lack of exposure.

    Opposition on the other hand would probably claim that single sex schools create a safe space for individuals to explore their own interests without being compared to the opposite gender. Research has consistently shown that in co-ed schools, girls perform significantly better in humanities subjects and languages while boys perform significantly better in Math and Sciences. However, in Single-Sex schools, male and female students have negligible differences in their performances across subjects. This shows that students in coed schools inevitably undergo gender role socialization, they are entrapped by expectations of gender differences through comparisons with the opposite gender. Girls are less likely to join Basketball or Robotics if they feel that they are activities meant for men and feel like an outcast by the large number of male members. Comparatively, if they are in a single-sex school they will not have a gendered outlook on any of these activities and are hence better able to explore their interests.

    Note that the arguments made by both Proposition and Opposition are true and valid to a certain extent. In most competitive debates, it is rarely the case that one side is able to completely defeat all of the other side’s arguments. Usually, both teams are able to forward arguments that all have a certain degree of merit. Therefore, teams need to go one step further to show that their arguments are comparatively stronger, even if their opponents arguments hold some water.

    For example, Proposition could explain that even if the academic performance of single sex schools are less skewed based on gender, the archaic and outdated values of these single sex schools often shape their student’s identity in ways which make them more vulnerable to patriarchal norms after they graduate. Opposition could similarly explain that even if single sex schools are formed based on outdated values prescribed upon each gender, they have a comparatively muted effect on the identity formation of a student as compared to coed schools which reinforces gender binaries through microaggressions and interaction between genders.

    The takeaway here is that it is generally insufficient for teams to simply focus on the merits of their own argumentation and case strategy, they also need to provide comparative analysis as to why they are able to triumph even if they take into account the legitimacy of their opponent’s points. Put simply, it is rare that your teams don’t manage to prove anything throughout 3 speakers in a debate, therefore they need to weigh out for the judges why what they managed to prove is comparatively more important than what their opponents managed to prove.

Motion 3: THW impose fines on individuals who create or spread fake news through social media

The individuals who create fake news with the deliberate intention to spread misinformation are drastically different from those who unwittingly spread fake news without necessarily knowing the veracity of the news they are spreading. The motion however, through the phrase “create or spread” lumps both types of individuals together and places a burden on Proposition to show that all of them should receive fines. This creates an awkward situation where Proposition may be able to provide persuasive arguments that individuals who create fake news with malicious intentions should receive fines while Opposition is able to provide persuasive arguments that individuals who unwittingly spread fake news without verifying them first are innocent and therefore should not be penalized. In the worst case scenario, both teams may produce a parallel debate with little engagement on both sides resulting in a debate that may be fiendishly difficult to judge.

As mentioned in my analysis for Motion 2, when both sides produce similar quality in terms of argumentation, the debate is often won or lost based on the ability and willingness of teams to engage with the other team’s arguments. Engagement exists not only through responses and rebuttals to your opponent’s arguments, it is also important to set cases and develop argumentation that is naturally responsive to your opponents.

For example, Proposition would be better served providing justification in first speaker for punishing those who unwittingly spread fake news even if they did not intend to spread misinformation. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. If Proposition is able to show that individuals should have a legal duty to conscientiously fact check everything they view on social media before sharing it to their peers, it logically follows that those who create fake news should receive even tougher sanctions.

  2. It is far easier for Opposition to claim that individuals should not be legally liable for sharing fake news as compared to those who create them with malicious intentions. Therefore, Opposition is very likely to make such claims in 1st Opposition speaker. By taking the first mover advantage, Proposition is able to neuter the persuasiveness of the Opposition’s argument before it is even made. Think about this from the adjudicator’s perspective, if one team has already made arguments regarding a certain clash, it becomes harder to credit the opposing view. Very often, this also makes the 2nd speaker’s job much easier because they can simply say: “1st Opp made argument X, but we already told you in 1st Prop why argument X doesn’t make sense, which they have been unable to respond to.”

  3. Debates with engagement are generally more interesting and of higher quality than debates where both teams run parallel cases. This means that even in the worst case scenario where your team loses the debate, your speaker scores are likely to be relatively high. This is especially important in SSSDC where there are only three preliminary rounds, which means that speaker scores will often be the tie-breaker for the majority of the teams to make the elimination rounds featuring the top 8 teams.

    There are over 20 teams in each division of SSSDC, this means that only 3 or 4 teams will be able to win all 3 rounds since match-ups are based on power pairing, which means that teams with similar records face each other. As a result, there will be 8 or 9 teams on 2 wins, only half of which will make the top 8 elimination rounds based on how high their scores are. As I have explained in a previous article, anyone can beat anyone. While the best teams will always aim to win all 3 preliminary rounds, there are many factors which can easily lead to an upset loss, including unbalanced motions, rogue judging, unlucky match-ups, and teams wildly under-performing/over-performing. Getting high speaker scores is a great insurance policy to help you make top 8 even if you suffer a loss in the preliminary rounds.

Hope you guys find the analysis useful, if you have any additional feedback or questions do feel free to leave us a comment or send me an email to the address I will be back this weekend to provide analysis on the motions for SSSDC Round 2, wishing you all a Happy Lunar New Year!

Singapore Secondary Schools Debate Championship 2018 Round 2

Singapore Nationals