The debate team from Sekolah Seri Puteri at the finals of the 45th Piala Perdana Menteri English Debate against Malay College Kuala Kangsar last July. - NSTP

Speaking in public, much less debating, can be a daunting experience for most students.

However, for a group of girls from Sekolah Seri Puteri, Cyberjaya (SSP), debating has become a passion, so much so that they cannot envision a future without debating.

Nur Sarrah Hanis Salihan, Iman Mohamad Afif (both 17), and Hasya Atiyah Khairuddin and Nur Zafrina Zainal Rashid (both 16) emerged as champion in the 45th Piala Perdana Menteri English Debate last July at Dewan Jubli Perak, Shah Alam.

They went up against the defending champion – the team from Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) – carrying the motion, “This house believes that the industrial revolution is a disguised attempt at colonising other nations.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman debating with Sekolah Seri Puteri School students Hasya Atiyah Khairuddin and Nur Zafrina Zainal Rashid during the Malaysia Hari Ini's (MHI) live broadcast at Sri Pentas. - NSTP/ASYRAF HAMZAH

”Since then, life hasn’t been the same for these girls. Basking in the glory after being thrust in the limelight, the girls have had interviews with the media as well as a personal invitation from Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman to debate with him on live television.

Debate provides experiences that are beneficial to intellectual and presentational skills. In addition, through debate, debaters acquire unique educational benefits as they learn and polish life-changing skills far beyond what can be learnt in any other setting.

It gives students like Nur Sarrah Hanis Salihan the confidence to aspire to become the future Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, for example.

Sarrah, as she is known at school, is the captain of the debate team and also the top student of her form in school. A vibrant and assertive girl, she certainly knows what she wants in life. She loves to read poems and her favourite poet is Edgar Allen Poe.

Not fazed by the spotlight they are getting now, Sarrah said that it feels nice to be famous but what’s more important to her is that it shows that Malaysians are now able to appreciate people who can speak well or are intellectuals.

“As we were debating that day, and it was definitely a hard topic, I felt that it was such an honour to be able to reach out to the non-debating community,” said Sarrah.

Nur Sarrah Hanis Salihan, Iman Mohamad Afif, Hasya Atiyah Kairuddin and Nur Zafrina Zainal Rashid at Sekolah Seri Puteri, Cyberjaya together with their trophies of the 45th Piala Perdana Menteri English Debate. - NSTP/ZULFADHLI ZULKIFLI.

“I feel that it isn’t something glamorous, but more of a celebration that Malaysians can accept the things that are moral or that are intellectual, and the exchange of ideas in a respectful way. This shows that the Malaysia Baru that we‘re working for is truly achievable and apparent today,” she added.

With wisdom that belies her age, Hasya Atiyah added, “There will be criticism at some point, I will not deny that but I am happy that we get to inspire more students out there to be confident enough to speak out their ideas.”

“Since young we’ve always been taught to keep quiet and not talk back, even in class, so I’m happy that this is changing and people are starting to appreciate kids who can speak well,” she said.

Hasya revealed that she began to gain the confidence to speak to strangers and in front of the class after attending many New Straits Times’ school holiday workshops ranging from Public Speaking to Robotics and Creative Writing.

“The workshops were so much fun and I learnt to make friends with different races and share ideas and opinions with them,” she said.

SSP principal Roslina Ahmad observed that despite appearing quiet and reserved, Hasya is a good speaker.

“I was caught by surprise as I didn’t know she had it in her to be able to debate well, especially with a minister,” she said.

Sekolah Seri Puteri principal Roslina Ahmad. - NSTP/ ZULFADHLI ZULKIFLI.

“Looking at how well debating is being received in the school and among the students, I am planning to organise programmes that will allow the younger students to start to train. I think debating can benefit the students in many ways, even after they leave school,” she added.

The PPM English debate takes on the parliamentary style. In a typical PPM debate, two teams are presented with a proposition that they will debate, with each team given a set period of time to prepare their arguments.

Iman, who was the third speaker at the PPM finals against MCKK said: “We were given 30 minutes to prepare for the topic given. It was quite a difficult topic but I think we managed to get our points across quite effectively.

”The first and second speaker on each team gets eight minutes to present their points. It also includes giving rebuttals to any questions posed by the opposing team. The third speaker can only present rebuttals, not new points.

In order for the debating teams to prepare their points and be confident in the competition they must be well-read and have a good range of general knowledge.

“The teams are given the theme in advance but not the topic,” said Nur Zafrina, who was the reserve speaker during the PPM debate. Being soft-spoken is certainly not a hindrance for her to voice out her thoughts.

(From left), Sekolah Seri Puteri girls, Nur Sarrah Hanis Salihan, Iman Mohamad Afif, Hasya Atiyah Kairuddin and Nur Zafrina Zainal Rashid reviewing a topic together at Sekolah Seri Puteri, Cyberjaya. - NSTP/ZULFADHLI ZULKIFLI.

Zafrina said that she plans to either become a doctor or run an NGO to make healthcare accessible to more poor people in the future.

“The topic is only given 30 minutes before the competition. So the team has to brainstorm and prepare their points of argument within that time limit. We do this on our own without any help from our teacher or advisor,” she added.

A skill that a good debater must have is research skills. “We do a lot of online research but don’t worry we only use verified sources and journals,” said Iman.

Iman, who hails from Subang Jaya speaks with a slight American accent. Since she loves to put on make-up, Iman plans to go into the cosmetics industry in the future but in a sustainable manner.

The girls, who are all avid

readers, attribute their wide knowledge and vocabulary to their love of reading.

“I really read a lot. I especially like biographies and books on history,” said Sarrah.

“Reading newspapers such as the New Straits Times is of great importance because we can get a lot of current issues from there,” she added.

“They carry articles that can be taken into context whenever we research on a given theme.

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