What do a team of ORT students from Russia have in common with Barack Obama, Martin Luther King and Brad Pitt?
They have all been part of an accomplished school debating team. And the three pupils from the Moscow ORT Technical School 1540 have also become the first Russian team to take part in a popular international competition in Japan.
Evgeniya Gavrillova, Vasilisa Kriger and Emilia Gyulasaryan, 10th grade students, were selected after writing essays and making presentations to fellow pupils. They were accompanied to the Far East by English teacher Darya Papina.
The Parliamentary Debate World Conference (PDWC) – run in partnership with Debate Mate – encourages students to connect through international cultural exchanges. They have the opportunity to learn how to engage in debate, to have respect for other views, and to speak in public.
The participants also experience diversity through learning about the history, culture and religions of other teams.
Darya Papina said the trip had provided “opportunities for the serious exchange of opinions in a spirit of friendly competition with other students from around the world, thus developing the students’ abilities to consider the future global society as well as fostering lifelong friendships”.
Emilia Gyulasaryan said the trip had been “probably the best week of my life”.
“We learned the structure of the debates, how to manage your voice volume while speaking in debates, how to make introductions and conclusions, what is the appropriate number of arguments…
“Also, after each debate, all the judges examined our mistakes, explained how to make our arguments more reasonable and powerful and what should be added.”
Held in two locations in Japan, the competition took place in English and included 24 teams of students from around the world. The ORT school performed extremely well, winning four rounds out of five, and were only beaten by the eventual winners – a team from Tokyo which has won the competition for the past four years.
Dr Marina Moiseeva, principal of Moscow ORT School, said: “We are very happy with the final result. Our students demonstrated fluency in English, spoke in Hebrew with their team mates from Israel, and increased their awareness of global problems.”
For Evgeniya Gavrillova, it was a “life-changing experience”.
She said: “We went there thinking of adventures in a far-away country, but we’ve found so much more – how to debate, how to clearly formulate our opinions, to be able to criticize the problem fully, finding advantages and disadvantages.
“We’ve met amazing people from different backgrounds and it was incredible to know their views on social and other types of global problems. It was only one week, but we earned so many new experiences and found so many new inspiring thoughts – PDWC turned my mindset upside down.”
Mentors at the tournament included former PDWC winners, successful business leaders and a Paralympic athlete.
The trip also provided sightseeing opportunities to learn about Japanese culture, including in the city of Kawagoe, a visit to a venue for this year’s Rugby World Cup, a day’s skiing, and a visit to Tokyo.
Darya Papina added: “On the last day everyone was crying while saying goodbye. It was really an outstanding and moving experience, which we will remember forever, because each person we met there made us a little bit better and gave us motivation to grow.”
Vasilisa Kriger said: “I met a lot of great people. The guys from France, England, Israel and other countries turned out to be incredibly pleasant companions and good friends afterwards.”
Margaret McCabe, founder and CEO of Debate Mate, said: “Being a good debater stands you in excellent stead to lead a successful life. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, JFK, Martin Luther King and Brad Pitt were all high-school debaters and attribute their success to taking part in the activity. World Champion debaters fill the top positions across all industries, including business, law, media and politics.”
The competition, held in January, is an example of how ORT adopts a forward-thinking approach to education. Encouraging students to take part in international competitions empowers them and provides the necessary skills to unleash their potential.