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World Debate Championship: The Czech Republic stands on the winner’s podium!

16. September 2010 The Karl Popper format debate championship in an exceptional event. No less than 50 teams meet in a fair Youth Forum competition, pursuing a singular goal: determine who will become the year’s champion. This year, we have almost reached the title thanks to the Educa Foundation’s generous support: the team from the Open Gate high school debaters placed third.

From Open Gate, Václav Soukup, Marek Svoboda and myself, Šimon Podhajský, represented the Czech Republic. This year’s World Championship, held in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands in July, was preceded by preparations that had been running since winter: Since the organizers from the International Debate Education Association clearly defined the topics of the propositions under debate as “children and justice”, we were preparing for topics we would know in advance (“Countries should ban the import of goods produced by child labor” and “In some cases juveniles should be tried as adults”), but also, in general, for impromptu propositions that we could not know ahead of time. It may be said that over those six months we became, in a way, experts in everything concerning children: child psychology, primary and secondary education, the issue of the protection of children’s rights... Under the guidance of two trainers, Kateřina Hanzelková and Kateřina Švajcrová from Asociace debatních klubů [Association of Debate Clubs], these preparations reliably guided us to the very top.

When we departed for the Netherlands at the end of July, we finally believed that we knew exactly what was in store for us. A lot of hard work, naturally: people in fact say that the line of argumentation is never completed; it only progresses to the point of having to stop preparing and start debating. Adjusting to an international environment, meeting people from five continents, and also many, many debates. We had not erred in any of those expectations but were nevertheless surprised by a much more fundamental aspect: the Netherlands itself. A country of tulips, freedom, and omnipresent cyclists; a country in which everybody is able and willing to advise and help you in English. No wonder that the Netherlands is the country of dreams for many people: once you get accustomed to it, it is difficult to leave.

But we had a clear reason to leave. We qualified through the initial rounds, attended by 50 teams, to third place, having logged five wins out of six – we only lost to the England team. This facilitated our easy passage through the octo-final debate against Bulgaria. After winning in the quarter finals for the proposition side on a proposition that put us at a considerable disadvantage (it is basically not possible to empirically prove that you will help children in the developing world if you ban child labor there), we were one step away from the finals; unfortunately, we then stood against the team that would win the whole championship in the end. The Lithuanians turned out to be the most experienced team that we came across in the Netherlands, and this experience unfortunately enabled them to knock us out.

Taking home the bronze medal and the title of one of the world’s top ten speakers from a world debating championship – this does not happen every day. But for the Educa Foundation, it would not have happened at all.
And so we took the bronze home from Zeeland; in addition to the bronze, I myself also took away recognition as the eighth best speaker at the championship. Considering the quality of competitors, it was quite a successful week. I am definitely also able to tell you that we learned a lot in the Netherlands: after all, in the other debating competitions that followed during that summer, we reaped, among other accolades, the award for the best EFL Team at the Heart of Europe international tournament [EFL = English as a Foreign Language]. Now, we will try to qualify for the finals of the  online debate championship.

Karl Popper wrote that “in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussions can help us sort the wheat from the chaff”. Thanks to the Foundation, we spent one week experiencing what it is like to debate in his style at the world’s highest level – and although with all those wheat grains to sort we sometimes felt like Cinderella, I think that we coped quite well.

Šimon Podhajský
Eight-year student at Open Gate
The Educa Foundation supports Šimon Podhajský in his studies at OPEN GATE high school.

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