BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT
Anita Anand is a journalist, author and broadcaster and is perhaps best known for her role as presenter of Any Answers on BBC Radio 2, where members of the public are invited to air their views on the hot topics of the day, a challenge she relishes. ‘My job is essentially to listen to people from very diverse backgrounds and with diverse opinions going at it,’ she says, ‘and to challenge some sometimes very concrete views by just chipping away and saying ‘are you sure?’; ‘Have you thought about this?’
Anita can trace her love of debating back to her childhood, ‘where a typical family dinner might have started with my dad asking: “so what do we all think about nuclear proliferation?”’ she laughs. She credits her success to the skills she learnt through the English-Speaking Union’s Public Speaking Competition, which she won in 1991, and which, she says, gave her her first glimpse of journalism when the local newspaper came to interview her after her victory.
‘I remember asking the reporter about his work and whether the story was exciting for him,’ she says, ‘and, even though he said it was the most boring thing he’d done all week, we talked about court reporting which sounded interesting.’ A work placement soon followed, in which Anita could use the other skills she learned through debating: how to research an argument, to focus, to think on her feet and to sift fact from fiction.
In this era when everyone’s screaming fake news at each other, you need to know. You need to be able to make up your own mind.
Debating and public speaking also gave her an interest in politics, and an understanding of the unpopular view. ‘Healthy debate is the absolute bedrock of a civilised society,’ she continues. ‘We are in a world in which people wrap themselves in bubbles, in an echo chamber, where they only hear their own opinion. It’s so corrosive and so bad. I want to encourage people to get involved, to look into things themselves and not be spoon-fed. The competition taught me, when I was knocked down with questions, to go away and think “actually I’ll rethink that, I might be wrong”. It taught me it’s good not to be comfortable in my opinions.’
Boosting children's confidence
As Anita’s story shows, the ability to debate and to speak in public are vital life skills that boost children’s confidence as well as their capacity for critical thought, helping them to achieve their goals and to realise their full potential.