Saturday, August 20, 2022


School debates crucial for the preparation of effective leaders

Let us hold our discussion together in our own persons, making trial of the truth and of ourselves. — Protagoras

The Presidential Debate the Kenya Editors’ Guild and the Media Council of Kenya organised attracted immense interest from Kenyans.

It didn’t matter the different political positions and loyalties of the candidates.

They articulated themselves on the various policy issues, problems and challenges that are currently facing Kenya at this point in time.

On a personal level, the debates brought to my mind the first debating situation I had in my primary school in the late 1970s.

Every Thursday, class six and seven pupils held debating sessions after the official class hours which was then, as now, 3.30 pm.

The topic or what was then called motion had been communicated earlier in the week.

The topic or motion required some of us to support and others to oppose. We were required to do some research on the topic before D-day.

Every Thursday evening, therefore, class six and seven pupils trooped to a classroom which was always redesigned.

There was one side designed to defend the motion and another to oppose the motion. Yes, we had a Speaker, a sergeant at arms, and a Hansard writer to record the proceedings.


We found the debating sessions educational and entertaining.

The sessions gave us an opportunity to speak, to express our ideas and feelings about the topics.

The topics were rudimentary. We had such topics as a mother is better than a father; a teacher is better than a doctor, and a farmer is better than a shopkeeper.

The experience of taking part in the debate was challenging. It gave us a chance to argue and to build up our confidence.

The different or opposing viewpoints meant that we were to think hard about the reasons for defending or opposing a viewpoint.

For whatever other reasons schools exist, they primarily exist to nurture the foundations of a child’s education.

They exist to develop children’s foundational skills: basic literacy, numeracy, and transferable skills.

These are the building blocks for a life of learning. Debate in schools — however elementary — test and stretch problem solving, analytical reasoning, critical thinking, leadership and communication in learners.

The debate also builds the esteem of learners. The debates were admittedly rudimentary. But they gave us confidence.

This was the only time our teachers sat through the session listening to us — unlike normal lessons and during other sessions.

One teacher was always present to correct the English and what other “sins against parliamentary democracy” we had inadvertently overlooked.

Greatest debates

I don’t know. But somewhere through my eclectic reading interest, I chanced on two of the greatest debates politicians have ever had.

All of them concern politics in the USA. The first was the controversy over the ratification of the USA Constitution.

Three Founding Fathers of the USA — John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton — wrote articles in the Newspapers of the time, defending the New Constitution and urging the delegates to ratify it.

We had other equally great intellects who opposed the proposed Constitution and wrote articles to and gave speeches in the various legislatures against ratification.

The second great debate is what historians call the Lincoln-Douglas debate. 

The debate was between the Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas and Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln during the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign, largely concerning the issue of slavery extension into the territories.

The other debate on lasting educational value is from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

The “debate” concerns whether it was right or not to assassinate Caesar.

We have Brutus delivering the little-known speech “hear me for my cause” providing justification for the killing of Caesar, whom he argues had become a dictator.

Brutus not only participated, but he is the one who stabbed him, killing him instantly.

Suffice it to say that the Presidential Debate that we witnessed was, in many ways, useful to Kenyans.

The voters, the ultimate masters of a country in a democracy, had the opportunity to see their leaders explain themselves.

The leadership of whatever kind needs education, knowledge, skill and intelligence. 

The writer is a communications officer, Ministry of Education

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