Be honest: how much did you really know about government when you were in grade six? One student at Rundle elementary school asked her fellow classmates about the same thing. But what started as one student challenging the worldliness of her fellow classmates has blossomed into a student project that the whole community wants in on.

The Debate for Democracy program at Rundle School started during a multi-age inquiry project, when one day a little girl accused her classmates of not understanding the different government systems like democracies and dictatorships. Her teachers asked what she knew about government and when she answered, a remarkable thing happened.

“This girl was very articulate and as she spoke, she managed to draw other children into the conversation,” said Rundle Principal Laurie Androsoff.  This particular student had just arrived from Afghanistan where she had attended the Canadian English school in Kabul. She understood the differences between the government systems because she had lived in them.  Androsoff and the other teachers involved saw potential as the students conversed.  That potential was the seed for the Debate for Democracy program.

The program involves 12 students who meet at lunch time and after school to debate topics that are important to them like rules, the most important things they’ve learned, the future of education and, of course, democracy. The debates don’t take the more traditional form that you would see in a junior or senior high school. Students instead write small speeches on topics and present them to one another.

“You have to be able to look up and speak up,” says Debate for Democracy participant Zafeer. “And you shouldn’t be shy.”

The outcomes of the program have been successful and far reaching. Other Rundle elementary students want to join the fun and so does Rundle’s neighbouring school, Cecil Swanson. Debate for Democracy has also attracted professional speaking coaches. The most important outcomes though are the ones seen in the students. Androsoff says that it has given the students confidence, improved their English skills, supported their learning on how to act morally and has provided a good foundation in life.

“It’s taught the students that they need to substantiate their sense of rightness and their opinions,” she says. “It’s also taught the boys that the girls have voices and they can come at them!” That said, Zafeer still prefers to debate with the boys; “It’s more fun because they laugh at my jokes!”

EducationMatters provides grants to support student debate clubs and competition participation every year – to show our donors their support in action,  Zafeer spoke at the EducationMatters 2009 Report to the Community luncheon in May.  In spite of the fact he lost his tooth just seconds before he was asked to give it in front of over 100 guests, Zafeer read with poise and confidence, impressing our supporters and showing the benefits of encouraging the development of debate skills in students!