September 27, 2013

Whither the secondary schools’ public speaking competition?

Fri Sep 27, 2013

It would really be a shame if the secondary schools’ public speaking competition does not come off this year, or if the Lions Club withdraws, and the competition has to be organized solely by the Ministry of Education.{{more}}

The competition has had a long and distinguished track record in this country, going back to 1976, when the first edition was won by none other than Director of Public Prosecutions Colin Williams, then a student of the St Vincent Grammar School! In those days, and right up to the early 1990s, the competition was organized by the St Vincent Jaycees, originators of the competition. After the Jaycees went dormant in the early 1990s, the competition, which by then had become a staple on the annual schools’ calendar, was taken over by the Lions. The Jaycees were also the originators of the primary schools’ spelling bee competition, now run by the Rotaract Club.

We now hear that the future of competition is uncertain, following a directive from the Ministry of Education to the Lions, to change certain topics, which did not find favour with them. The Lions responded in a very strongly worded letter saying basically, back off or we will pull out! In our view, both the Ministry and the Lions erred in the handling of this situation. The Ministry, if it felt so aggrieved about the topics, could have entered into dialogue with the Lions, rather than unilaterally and highhandedly deciding on “more suitable” topics, which must be used. The Lions Club South is not a unit within government, and does not report to the Ministry; they are partners in this enterprise, and really should have been treated with much more respect. Similarly, the response from the Lions was, to be frank, quite contemptuous of the Ministry, and left no room for compromise.

We are of the view that there is nothing wrong with the topics as stated by the Lions. It has been said that the Ministry thought that they were too “negative”. The revised topics proposed by the Ministry (in two of the cases), were virtually the same, but stated much more benignly. Experienced framers of topics for public speaking know that when topics are stated in an “extreme” manner, they elicit much more passionate responses, either for or against, and the result is a much better performance. One wonders what the Ministry was protecting the students or the public from, when they reworded the topics.

What is done, has already been done; we now have to move forward. Hopefully, some compromise can be reached between the Ministry and the Lions, to have the competition go forward with active participation from both. It is not that the Ministry cannot do a good job of putting the logistics of the competition together, but public/private/NGO partnerships are essential to the make-up of “the Village” which is raising our children.

The secondary schools’ public speaking competition is almost 40 years old, and is larger than either the Ministry or the Lions. We urge both parties to put aside egos in the interest of the students and the nation.