Students trade arguments and culture in Galway
Hundreds of young people from around the world are taking part in digital debate event
Zuhro Ganjibekova and Bonu Hafizova from Tajikistan at the International Debate and Education Association youth forum country night at NUI Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Taylor Li, a high school student from the United States, stands at the podium in NUI Galway’s Kirwan Theatre and makes his argument. “Winston Churchill,” he says, “was a drunk, rude man who always insulted people”, and yet, “he pretty much saved England”.
Li is taking part in a debate on social media and privacy. The resolution states that employers should be banned from checking the online profiles of their employees and Li’s team from the Academy of Higher Learning in California are arguing that an individual’s personal life doesn’t necessarily influence their professional life.
Their opponents, from a high school in Texas, have just argued that any information an individual volunteers on Facebook is out there for anyone to see, including their bosses.
The debate is one of dozens taking place in the university this month as part of the International Debate and Education Association’s (Idea) global youth forum, a two-week event that brings hundreds of young people together to debate and take part in what organisers call cultural exchanges. This year the theme is “digital freedoms”. The debates cover online privacy, digital rights and the Edward Snowden affair.
Youth forum director Steven Nolan, originally from Gort, Co Galway, says the event is more focused on education than a lot of other debate competitions. “We want the kids to develop skills that they can take out of it, like research skills, organisation and prioritisation skills; transferable skills that sometimes aren’t the focus of debate events.”
Idea has offices in London, New York, Amsterdam and Macedonia, among other places, and recently set up in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Those offices work with local organisations, debate bodies and schools to select teams for the annual event.
This is the 19th Idea youth forum and the first to be held in Ireland. The participants, most of whom are aged 15 to 17, are staying in the nearby Corrib Village campus accommodation.
“To me the benefit of this is getting to know the people from different cultures,” says curriculum director Sharon Porter. A retired schoolteacher based in Arkansas, Porter reckons she’s learned more about the world from working with Idea over the past seven years than in all the years prior.
“You get a chance to break the stereotypes that you would have of countries – and especially in the United States, we have so much tunnel vision. If it doesn’t exist in the United States we don’t give a darn about it and an awful lot of people don’t travel outside of the country,” she says.