The Oxford Union representatives (from left) Charlie Cheesman, Chris Zabilowicz, Chris Garner and Isabella Risino.

THE benefits a student can gain from engaging in healthy debate, which is an art of persuasion and a form of public discussion, are numerous.

A good debate encompasses rational and strong arguments, which leads to sound decision-making.

Debaters can acquire self-confidence, improve their higher-order and critical-thinking skills, as well as enhance their analytical and research capabilities.

No matter which path they pursue in university, being able to communicate clearly and confidently is a boon that goes a long way.

For students applying to prestigious universities, they may have to keep their debating skills sharp as it can be an advantage for admission.

According to Charlie Cheesman, an economics and management student of St Edmund Hall, Oxford University, debating is relevant in the university’s application process and interviews.

“Debating is about critically assessing problems and reading deeply into an issue.

It is also an important skill for you to speak confidently and clearly with your peers, which is something so valuable later in life.”

Cheesman, together with three of his university mates, were visiting four international schools in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor to give insight to students about university life abroad.

As members of The Oxford Union (Oxford University’s debating society), they conducted thought-provoking workshops and shared the fundamentals of debating.

Students were split into groups and given a topic. The Oxford Union representatives helped them to structure their arguments and gave tips on how to win a duel of speeches.

Having served as president of the Union, Chris Zabilowicz said: “The Oxford Union is founded on the basis of free speech and debate.

We are very careful not to platform speakers who are controversial for controversy sake.”

The Oxford Union is best known for its high-profile speaking events and debates, with topics ranging from politics to religion, science and the arts since 1823.

It has provided opportunities for many budding politicians from the United Kingdom and other countries to develop their speaking skills, and acquire reputation and network.

Some of its famous speakers include United States presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Others notable figures were Mother Theresa, Elton John, Albert Einstein and Natalie Portman.

“One main reason why we are here is because we are passionate believers that debate is critical to the country’s fulfillment of democratic values,” said Zabilowicz.

“Every term, the committee tries to make the topics varied and organise debates that everybody can go to, whether you’re a student in science, politics or art.

“In the Union, we discuss topics that are of importance and in great controversy or disagreement. Just because the topic is sensitive or controversial, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed,” said the third-year law student.

Talking about the debates organised by The Oxford Union, Chris Garner, who is studying philosophy, politics and economics at St Peter’s College, said: “We have hosted quite a number of powerful debates and discussions.

“In one of the terms, I co-organised a panel to discuss genocide and why it continues to reoccur, and what can be done to break that cycle.”

Isabella Risino, who is a second-year law student at St Catherine’s College, said: “What we are trying to teach the student is applicable to interviews and it is going to help them to engage in university discussions and lectures.

Apart from that, the students will be able to think and write independently.

“Just follow your passion and never look at the statistics when applying for college. I used to think that I am not good enough for Oxford.

“But I just went to the interview and got in, not knowing that law is statistically harder to get into,” said Risino.

Speaking about his experience, Garner said he was incredibly lucky to study in Oxford, in the course that he’s passionate about.

“Oxford is an intense and academic place, and I find that to be a positive thing. I am excited to share about the type of learning that’s happening there, which distinguishes it from other institutions in the world.

“The teaching method is different, which is through one-on-one tutorials with professors who have written the textbooks from which you are studying.

“As a law student, my professors are the ones who write articles that influence decision-making in courts. It is such a fortunate position to be in,” he said.

The four representatives conducted the workshops and assemblies at Garden International School, HELP International School, The International School@Park City and the Alice Smith School.

Their audiences were mainly 16- to 18-year-old students pursuing the A Level or International Baccalaureate programmes.

In the “Finding Your Voice” assembly, the representatives described how they decided on what they wanted to study at university, the admission process, and what skills they needed to succeed.

The “I Can” talk was held particularly for female students. Risino, who conducted the session, was passionate in empowering women.

She encouraged her audience to pursue their goals irrespective of societal norms.

The two-day event was organised by Oxford International AQA Examinations (Oxford AQA).

Oxford AQA provides the International GCSEs, AS and A Level qualifications for students studying in British curriculum schools.

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