‘Adults often make out that we as children don’t understand current affairs, but often that’s because we haven’t been given the opportunity to talk about the issues,’ says Fatima. Luckily, programmes such as the English-Speaking Union’s Debate Academy exist to give young people just that opportunity. A week-long, residential summer school, it offers world-class coaching from expert mentors to cater for all levels of ability, as well as stimulating lectures and social activities.
Fatima has attended twice now. ‘Both times, I had a lot of fun,’ she says. ‘It challenged me to get involved and have confidence in myself.’ As well as learning to overcome her nerves, she particularly enjoyed the topics the group discussed. ‘We talked about problems in the Middle East, the Israel/Palestine conflict, international relations and past wars and how they could have been resolved differently,’ she says. ‘Debate Academy attracts a really diverse group of people so often there are varying opinions within the class. You learn how other people think and you begin to look at things from a different perspective and I think that’s really beneficial.’
Fatima firmly believes that conversations like this are a vital part of young people’s development. ‘We are going to be the decision-makers of the future so it’s important we have these discussions now. It opened my mind to different opinions and helped me to think more analytically and critically about current affairs.’ She also feels empowered by the experience, both by the mentors’ encouragement and through the opportunity of having a platform to voice her views.
I think often young people don’t feel we have the ability or the authority to speak out about the issues we care about, either through intimidation or patronisation from older people. But when we are given a platform we will speak up because we know how important our voices are and the power that we as young people have.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF DEBATE?
Debate Academy and our other debate programmes enhance social mobility, enabling young people to acquire the skills they need to take an active part in society and to achieve their full potential.