The American University of Sharjah (AUS) recenlty hosted the Intercollegiate Debate Championships, which was organised by the executive committee of the debate club and a team of almost 30 volunteers. The tournament consisted of nine teams; Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU), University of Wollongong Dubai (UOWD), University of Sharjah, University of Sharjah Medical College, Gulf Medical College, Royal College Ras Al Khaimah, Preston University, Institute of Information Technology and Management and the home team, AUS.

Judging the competition were faculty members from the participating universities or from Toastmasters International. All judges had to attend a judge's workshop preceding the event to familiarise themselves with the parliamentary style of debating. The AUS team, comprising Murtaza Nanji, Samihah Zaman and Shirin Shaikh and the UWOD team, comprising Irshad Azeez, Rohini Kamath and Rumana Sadekar, beat the other teams to the final round, which was held recently in the AUS main auditorium.

The topic of the debate was 'Western media has a negative impact on the culture of developing countries', which gave the team a stimulating topic for a lively and interesting discussion. The AUS team debated for the topic while the UWOD debated against. The speakers were marked on various criteria, including style, logically-knitted arguments and voice modulation, to name a few.

"The debates were of a very high order and showed that students are knowledgeable in the pressing issues of our time," said Dr. Swapna Koshy, instructor in the College of Undergraduate Studies, UOWD.

Winners and awards

Competition was fierce and AUS emerged the winner.

"For the first time ever, the results were very close," said the president of the AUS Debate Club, Anushay M. Usman.

The title of 'Best Speaker of the Final' went to Murtaza Nanji of AUS and the title of 'Best Speaker of the Tournament' went to Rohini Kamath of UWOD.

Notes spoke to the winners about the experience.

Winners speak

Samihan Zaman

My hardest moment: "In the semifinal, the topic of the debate was only released a minute before the competition. That was a difficult situation but I thought on my feet and decided that instead of formulating my own argument I would devote myself to refuting the other team's argument."

Message to fellow debaters: "Everyone should give it a shot as the art of debating and public speaking are very enriching experiences. I learned many valuable life-long lessons during the tournament, which was only a week long. You should be prepared to face challenges that come with competitions and learn from the experience."

Murtaza Nanaji: winner and speaker

My hardest moment: "The stress of the final round was hard to digest and giving the final speech seemed like the hardest task ever. However, I tried my best to remain calm and composed and delivered the speech to the best of my abilities."

Best Moment of the Tournament: "The night before the final round, we all went to Starbucks to work on our arguments. Instead of working, we spent two hours telling jokes and laughing our heads off, which really helped relieve the stress and frustration that had built up."

Message to fellow debaters: "The highlight of public speaking and debating is getting your ideas across to the audience. In today's world, where communication is the key to success, this is an essential skill to possess. It is also a learning experience in which you can benefit from your mistakes and the mistakes of others."

Shirin Shaikh

Message to fellow debaters:
"Debating can enhance logical reasoning skills and one should have faith in his/her talents. There might be moments when people tend to demoralise you, but be strong. And make sure you hold the team spirit".

Cambridge examinations assume role of responsibility

Ann Puntis, chief executive of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), and Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment Group, recently held a series of meetings with representatives of several UAE schools, the UAE Ministry of Education, Abu Dhabi Education Council and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

A number of schools in the UAE follow a curriculum based on CIE examinations, such as the International General Certificate of Higher Education (IGCSE) and the Advanced Level (A Level). With the exams being formulated in the UK and taken in the UAE, external supervision relevant to the curriculum is almost mandatory.

"One of the aims of our visit to the UAE is to ensure articulation between curriculum and assessment while being sensitive to local wishes," said Ann Puntis.

What hopes does the CIE have from the meetings with government representatives?

Puntis led discussions on various educational topics. She elaborated on how assessment can be used to improve learning and how technology can support schools. She said that she hoped that recommendations and conclusions could be solidified and implemented as a result of further communication.

Will IGCSE replace Tawjihi?

According to Ann Puntis, this is a course of action that has not been discussed. However, she said, "It is a possibility but only if the UAE wishes it to be. Overriding a region's schooling system is not our goal," she said.

Cambridge extends a helping hand to teachers

An additional aim of the visit was to offer teachers in the region support in their practice. The group agreed to hold subject-specific conferences for teachers to discuss techniques that imrpove performance. Online facilities that connect teachers with education experts at the CIE were also recommended.

Cambridge also offers the Cambridge International Diploma for teachers, which acts as a bridge course for those who have been teaching a subject specific to their degree but have no formail training, to help them obtain a Masters degree in education.

Education conference

The UAE has been selected as the venue for an education conference by the CIE on February 27, 2008. The conference hopes to facilitate communication between educational providers and agencies across the Gulf.