The Impact Of Debate Can Be Life-changing: Rajiv Kacholia, Speech And Debate India

To understand the importance of speech and debate in students' life, BW Education engaged in a conversation with Rajiv Kacholia, Founder of Speech and Debate India.

Speech and Debate India (SDI) is a virtual academy to develop skills which contribute to academic success while simultaneously improving social skills. SDI functions in collaboration with National Speech and Debate Association, USA (NSDA) which is globally-known to have over 95 years to foster balanced leadership and no other academic activity has the extent of research supporting the academic, college and life benefits. Excerpts from the interview:

Give a brief about Speech and Debate India. 

Speech and Debate India was an initiative launched this January based on an augmented U.S. debate pedagogy to train students to express their voice across important issues and challenges we face. It’s critical to train our next generation of business leaders, entrepreneurs and social and policy leaders with the aptitude and ability to critically examine alternative viewpoints and efficiently evaluate, negotiate, and find the best solutions. The program is modelled off the most rigorous format of US Debate and is bringing together India’s brightest kids, the leaders of the 21st century, to critically think, collaborate, and create a bright future.

We focus on student-centred and practical learning experiences, with six different grade and ability-based divisions in the debate. We don’t expect any prior knowledge or experience and our format integrates new kids quickly. Students build and advance debate skills while diving deep into specific engaging content areas. This practical application makes learning fun and we incorporate exciting games and challenges through our curriculum. Our program is taught exclusively by US instructors and is designed to supplement student learning with their traditional board curriculum and advance their academic aptitude as well as social skills.  
How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted you? How are you dealing with this disruption?
We originally started with a beta-test online debate course in January 2020 with a small group of 4 students. As Coronavirus began to emerge, we proactively decided to enhance and leverage our e-learning platform and focus online by early March 2020. We’ve seen significant growth since then as we’ve been able to provide students with an enjoyable and engaging platform to intellectually and socially engage with students from top schools across the country.  
Since the emergence of COVID-19, we’ve expanded from 4 students online to over 400 and have continued to systematically build more capacity and debate course options. Our online platform has already attracted students from all the largest cities in India like Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai, Delhi / Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Mumbai while giving kids in smaller towns the ability to interact and learn with the best. The uniqueness and global quality standards that our platform brings have been further demonstrated with students who have joined us from international locations like Dubai, Singapore, Muscat, London, New York and more.  
How are innovative online education tools helping students and your platform grow in the current situation?
In traditional school learning, researchers have found teaching to be largely one-directional lectures at kids and the interactions that do occur tend to be surface level and do not attain a deep level of critical analysis. Students tend to have short attention spans and most kids tune out multiple times through a lecture. We have flipped that model with student-centred online learning where kids enjoy the interaction and love being at the centre of engaging discussions and debates. Kids learn much more when they are highly engaged and debate has been proven across many academic studies. Our online pedagogy dives much more in-depth and empowers kids to really think, create, explore, collaborate – areas they naturally love!
We use interactive online debate games and drills to impart lessons and theory that challenge students intellectually. By being in a class with top students of a similar age, kids have a unique opportunity in our platform to learn both with and from some of the brightest peers in the country. Our online platform saves students time from commuting, enhances interactivity, leverages a number of games and exercises that are much easier for us to incorporate online, and broadens their exposure to respect and appreciate diverse thinking outside their own school base.
What is the impact of extra-curricular activities on the overall personality development of a child?
The impact of the debate can be life-changing. Strengthening academic and life skills is an ongoing process and a critical determinant of performance near-term in school and college, and longer-term in organizations. US Researchers have found that debate greatly advances academic skills like reading, writing, and test-taking, along with key soft skills that are critical for leadership development. US Debate builds 21st Century skills viewed by colleges and employers currently as the widest gaps, such as Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.  
Alumni include entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Ted Turner (CNN), Oprah Winfrey, and US Presidents John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Modern Debate empowers the brightest students to learn, challenge, collaborate, and advance together as future leaders.
What is the role of Speech and Debate in enhancing life skills?
Life skills are critical to long-term success but unfortunately are generally not mastered in traditional classrooms. Interpersonal skills include collaboration, leadership, and persuasion. These skills emerge from self-awareness and character-building qualities including attentiveness, critical thinking, and creativity. They are interwoven to form our personality, self-reflection, and social interactions, aiding us throughout life.
Students in US Debate gain valuable real-world lessons on working together effectively with other kids. Collaboration, leadership, and persuasion start to develop long before the debate round as students prepare with teammates by dividing tasks, researching, and negotiating how they will consolidate their findings collectively as a unified team. Collaboration is a critical judging factor during a US Debate round and an integral aspect of winning as teammates closely support one another while racing against the clock to persuasively communicate for a positive ballot. Moreover, each student takes ownership and leadership before and during particular stages of the debate.  
US Debate also raises self-awareness as students learn to recognize and articulate their viewpoints, using evidence and logic, rather than simply expressing opinions. Students learn patience and the importance of listening attentively to the opposing team while thinking critically to define questions that will challenge assumptions. Another important judging criteria is the creativity that students employ in formulating out of the box policy proposals and innovative solutions to real-world issues, whether in healthcare, education, climate change, technology, business and entrepreneurship, government, or other social impact areas.  
Skill development shouldn’t have to be a binary choice against academics. These are critical social and life-changing competencies, which US Debate harmonizes together to empower our kids with the academic rigour and soft personal tools to adapt successfully in our rapidly evolving world. 

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