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23rd October 2020

How debating changed for the better during COVID

The Manchester Debating Union highlights the positive aspects of virtual debating
How debating changed for the better during COVID
Photo: Ihesinachi Oyouwa Oko-Jaja

COVID-19 has thrown students’ academic, social, and extracurricular lives into disarray. But debating societies are finding ways to thrive in the chaos. The Manchester Debate Union shares how debating became more accessible as it switches to virtual:

What was debating like before COVID-19?

Before the pandemic, most competitions were held over the weekend. Debaters travelled to universities all over: from Glasgow to London, Liverpool, or even Athens! Socials took place in pubs after each day of competition. If they got through to the next round, students would spend the night away from home.

The prestige of the competitions really attracted people from all around the country.

What were the unexpected benefits of virtual debating?

Coronavirus has forced debating societies to make changes to the way they host events. Most of them have now completely moved to online and use Discord or Zoom to hold training sessions and socials. Since March, various competitions have been held online, including the European Universities Debating Championship. Two Debate Union’s members, Jacklin and Lucie, managed to get to the final round!

Virtual debates and events make debating more accessible and inclusive. In the past, students used to make long train journeys in order to participate in competitions all over the country. This would make it harder for disabled debaters, to whom it is challenging to access public transportation. They would often encounter issues, such as lack of a step-free access in train stations, or signs lacking a translation to braille. Moreover, train journeys are expensive, due to which some students might have been excluded from the debates.

Online debates are inclusive in regards to students with disabilities, as well as to those who have a part-time job, or cannot afford expensive journeys and overnight stays. Additionally, it helps novice debaters to build confidence, as they do not feel the pressure of a large live audience.

What are the challenges of online debating?

Since people from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa all participate in global competitions together, people living in Eastern time zones may find it hard to keep up with events scheduled in the West. In response to this issue, competition organisers have made competitions longer in order to give everyone the opportunity to attend.

All in all, despite the curveballs the pandemic has been throwing at us, debating has found ways of adapting and even improving in the face of such uncertainty.

If you’re interested in learning more about debating or taking part in online competitions, you can join the Manchester Debating Union during their novice sessions via Zoom at 5 pm on Tuesdays, and advanced sessions at 6 pm on Mondays, or get in touch through their Facebook page.

Ihesinachi Oyouwa Oko-Jaja

Ihesinachi Oyouwa Oko-Jaja

I’m a second-year Politics and Criminology student at the University of Manchester! I’m currently the Publicity and Communications Officer for Manchester Debating Union so I’m writing to promote my society. My other interests include cooking, anime, music production and drawing.

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