The Niger State schools’ debate team emerged as the best overall at the National Schools Debate competition held in Akure, Ondo State, last year. That feat qualified them to represent Nigeria at the World Schools’ Debate slated for Croatia Slovakia July 17 to 28. Mrs Zarah Ibrahim, desk officer at the Niger State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), is the team manager. In this interview by ADELOWO OLADIPO, she speaks on the schools’ debate programme and its achievements. Excerpts:
Can you tell us something about the Niger State’s Schools Debate?
It is a debate club which has many debaters from various public primary and junior secondary schools. The club won last year’s national competition which took place at Akure, Ondo State. Debaters from the club had earlier represented Nigeria at the international debate tournament twice at Singapore in 2016 and at Heart of Europe debating championship in July 2017.
Debaters from the same club will represent Nigeria again in Word Schools Debating Tournament coming up this Month, between 17th to 28th precisely. We give gratitude to God, and we also appreciate our governor, His Excellency Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, and the Niger SUBEB chairman, Alhaji Alhassan Mohammad Bawa Niworu, for their untiring support.
Which schools represented the state at the last programme of the debate?
Limawa Model School,and Fr O’Connor Science College (JSS), Minna.
What classes were these students when they were drawn from their schools?
They were in primary 6 and JSS 1 and 2.
And what has the experience been working with these children?
It’s been interesting. My debaters are disciplined and hard working. This has been the secret of the success. They get busy searching for facts and figures on certain motions online; from the library, then digest them properly for a constructive argument, because cramming facts is no longer accepted in debate.
To what would you attribute the success of the state’s debate clubs, to have come first among their peers nationwide?
It’s been hard work on the part of the pupils/students and their coaches; then, support from our superior officers, and also from our governor and SUBEB chairman. The governor has been beyond supportive. After we returned from the Czech Republic, he gave huge educational grants to the students to show his delight over their performance. The wife of the governor, Dr. Amina Abubakar Bello, also gave some brand new computer and laptops to the club to ease our work and boost our morale.
But this is coming at a time when the stakeholders in the education sector are saying that the standard of the public schools are dwindling or falling below standards?
Well, I don’t know what is responsible. What I do know is that debaters from the club are drawn from public schools, because according to the rules stated by the body responsible for the programme, President Schools Debate Nigeria (PSDN), only public school pupils/students are eligible to participate.
How many are the students in the club now, and how do you camp them during their debates?
We have about 25 debaters in the club now. We normally meet at a school after school hours to prepare and rehearse when there is need.
Which schools represent the state in these debating activities?
All public primary and Junior Secondary Schools in the state can register their debaters with the club. For now, Fr O’Connor Science College and Limawa Model School have taken the lead.
What should we be expecting now that you and your students are going to the world stage to represent not only Niger State, but Nigeria and Africa in general?
Well, 64 countries will participate in this year’s tournament, and by God’s grace, we will make Nigeria proud of our outing.
Are you grooming other children who will take over from these crop of students?
Preparation is already on ground to bring up more outstanding debaters that can stand the test of time.
What exactly do you look for when making the selection?
The first thing I consider is interest; because it’s time-demanding; then, their performance in English language.
What is SUBEB doing to ensure that schools (both public and private) employ qualified teachers to teach these subjects?
Well, that is not part of my assignment, but I do know that my state is trying in the aspect of education. Debaters who have grown bigger are not thrown away. Instead, they help to coach the new ones.
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