High School Debate Contest

Debating in another language is a great way to challenge your skills. When I taught English at the academic high school, our advanced students had a debate class. The textbook had its own topics, like whether junk food should be allowed in schools, the pros and cons of international marriage (strongest pro for students was cute “half” babies), whether the government should allow more immigration to counteract the problems of depopulation (students answer: no, build better robots), and whether the internet was a good place to meet people (general consensus was that you would certainly be abducted just from talking to strangers on the internet).

The most difficult thing in teaching debate was not getting students to create a sentence, but in asking them to form opinions. Critical thinking and “short essay” questions are essential parts of the American education system. In Japan, however, a good student is one who memorizes everything the teacher says. That’s why debate classes started very simply and slowly. Students would compare and form opinions on cats vs. dogs, summer vs. winter, and slowly move up to more difficult topics. The key was to choose topics to which the students could relate, like whether they ought to wear school uniforms, if they should have more time off for school breaks, or how Japan compares with other countries.


Over the course of three years we were constantly experimenting on the method.  At some point you need to go beyond the skill of forming opinions and start to respond to those of others. How much time should be given for that? Are they allowed a defense to the rebuttal? Without ever having taken a debate class myself, I felt ill-equipped to come up with a great system, though I recognized what a great skill it was for the students to learn.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to attend a prefectural-wide debate contest in Matsumoto. Several high schools in Nagano prefecture brought their team of debate students to challenge each other on one topic. I got there too late to receive a pamphlet with the written topic, but it was something along the lines of “The government should provide a basic income for every citizen.” I was amazed by what I saw. Students had studied their topics extensively beforehand. They brought printouts of data they’d collected and were able to use it to rebut opponents points, as well as defend their own stances. I must commend their teachers, because it it was way beyond the level that we were able to bring our own students.

I wasn’t able to find any English websites detailing the debates, but hope that it will become a common practice across Japan.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Georgia H says:

    In my short career of high school debate, our contest topic was “evolutionism vs. creationism”. The other team was assigned “creationism”, and I must say that they did very well defending a view they did not necessarily share. Did the students in Japan get to choose which side they are on?


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