Debate Camp
Debate Camp News
December 2, 2015

Giving Kids the Edge: The Valuable Skill of Debating

We live in a world where digital connection has become the norm.  Young people in particular are constantly connected to their peers almost always via the digital portal of social media.  It has become a world of hand-held interactivity. Students interact almost constantly by quickly reading and replying, by blogging as young experts, or re-posting articles and pictures. It is a highly interactive world, with a buzz of information available at any one time - - all of it accessible while walking, or waiting for the bus to school.


Parents in our current epoch worry about the future generation. It is no surprise that most western world educators are starting to check the over-use of technology with something of a more interactive nature for students, perhaps out of the fear that they will be ill-suited to deal with the world’s problems.


Educational research of the last 10 years has advocated a set of declining percentages for just how much students remember from year to year.  The model is called the “Learning Pyramid” and it is widely accepted that students retain 5% of what they hear, 10% of what they read, 20% of what they see, and 30% of what they see demonstrated by another person.  However, students retain knowledge in 50% of instances where they can discuss information with another student, 75% when they can combine learning with the practice of it – i.e. doing something with their knowledge and students retain 90% of what they learned if given the opportunity to teach to someone else… this is what makes debating such a valuable learning activity.


Young people who can come together and debate intellectually on topics to do with justice, international conflicts, the changing global balance of power, changing laws, or even education… These are the young people who will lead the future of the world.  And admittedly, it is a future that needs active thinkers, listeners, and very much so – debaters!  These are the life-skills worth cultivating and although not all is lost on the present fixation with digital media, at lease we can create a valuable counter-medium that allows students to come face to face and engage their thinking and make meaning of it and perhaps most importantly, remember and retain what they have learned 90% of the time…


In 2002, Nick Szymanis – then Department Head of Social Studies at Crofton House School, alongside several champion debaters from the University of British Columbia, came up with an idea.  What if, for 1 week each summer, some of the country’s brightest, aspiring young minds were gathered together on one campus and empowered to think on their feet, connect ideas and fostered the confidence to speak and debate with clarity and conviction?  The answer was Debate Camp Canada.  12 years later and our little summer camp idea of aspiring thinkers and speakers is now offered in Toronto and Halifax as well.  It seemed only natural to bring it back to Vancouver, this time to West Point Grey Academy, where some of the country’s most successful debaters, including Lindsay Spencer, this year’s Assistant Director and past debate camper (and national team member) now a member of the WPGA faculty.


Debate is less about elite-level skills development for competition purposes only, and more about empowering skills relevant to life long learning.  We believe that to have advocacy skills, an ability with rhetoric, an ability to effectively organize one's thoughts, and ability to listen and be heard - - are all life-long skills.  Campers repeatedly inform us of how successful their academic experiences are - after Debate Camp, largely because the felt intellectually emboldened and confident in their ability to engage in academic discourse on subjects and with a skill-set they felt unsure about only weeks previous.  This is why we feel campers return for a few years - and engage in all that camp has to offer.


In 2015, Debate Camp Canada will offer camps in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and the Halifax area, as well our new west coast residential at Brentwood College on Vancouver Island and our new residential super-camp at Stanstead College in Quebec. 

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Nick Szymanis

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