Open for debate: How students took the argument online

Speaking became less public during COVID-19 but it didn’t stop NSW public students taking part in ‘The World’s Biggest Debate’, writes Glenn Cullen.

Image: Crestwood High School students Ekun Au, Bradwell Kwok, Enie Lam and Rowan Myers. The team made it through to The World’s Biggest Debate quarter-finals in the Years 7-8 division.

At a time when most speaking competitions and organised debating was off the agenda around the globe, NSW public schools were going big.

So big, the state-wide online competition, which reached the quarter-finals stages this month, was dubbed ‘The World’s Biggest Debate’.

With the Premier’s Debating Challenge taking a back seat during COVID-19, the Arts Unit had to get creative and adapted an online debate where groups of students would thrash it out over the same topic all day before determining the eight finalists in each division.

Some 122 teams took part across the state, with divisions for students in years 5-6, 7-8 and 9-10.

“I’ve been involved in debating for a decade – and I can’t think of anything bigger,” said judge James Smith.

“NSW public schools have really been leading the way with this and it’s a credit to the ingenuity of teachers, staff and students that this was able to happen.

“It’s tough getting 50 or more schools together to do anything at the best of times, so under the circumstances it was an amazing achievement.”

What stood out for Mr Smith was a diversity of argument and contrasting styles across the schools as well as outstanding results from schools outside the Sydney region: more than half the quarter-finalists in the 5-6 and 7-8 years divisions came from outside the city.

The teams will now compete in a knockout series culminating in finals during the last week of school term.

Image: Murrumbidgee Regional High School student Aoibhinn Robinson and Miss Ridgway prepare to join the online debate.

Final pitch

Year 5 & 6 Division – Topic: We should ban homework


  • Lilli Pilli Warriors
  • Randwick Ironstein
  • Lake Cathie Lakers
  • Terara Public School
  • Riverbank Raging Rivers
  • Alexandria Park Community School Parkians
  • North Rocks Gryffindor
  • Hay Lachlans

Year 7 & 8 Division - Topic: That people under 18 should be banned from using social media


  • Ulladulla High School A
  • Murrumbidgee Regional High School A
  • Muirfield High School
  • North Sydney Girls High School
  • Rose Bay Secondary College B
  • Smiths Hill High School
  • Crestwood High School B
  • Merewether High School

Year 9 & 10 Division – Topic: That Australia should ban gambling on sports


  • Sydney Boys High School A
  • North Sydney Girls High School
  • North Sydney Boys High School
  • Smith’s Hill High School
  • Merewether High School A
  • Penrith High School A
  • Concord High School B
  • Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts.
  • News
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