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Practising The Art Of Argument And Winning Debate

Practising art of argument and listening - 1
Ali (left) with Joseph Ng speaking at an NTU entrepreneurship conference on Aug 29, 2013 

Communication skill and critical thinking are the secrets in winning a debate, says Ali Ahmad Yaakub, who helped found a debating club at SIM Global Education in end-2012. Known as SIM Discourse (the name has a nice academic feel to it, says Ali), it sent a three-member team over the Good Friday weekend to a debating tournament hosted by Nanyang Technological University.

“We won two of five rounds,” says Ali of the event. His co-debaters were Cheng Ee Shan and Dominick Poh. Together they pitted their argumentative and speech-making skills against 56 teams (from local and foreign tertiary institutions) during the NTU Dorothy Cheung Debating Championships 2013.

Ali says they also took part in the Singapore Management University Hammers debate the following month (May 2013). Although they didn’t make it to the finals, they managed again to win two of five rounds. This iteself was an achievement considering the inexperience of the team.

You can find the SIM Discourse members in one of the classrooms on campus on Tuesday and Thursday evenings exercising their jaws in the Asian or British parliamentary-style debate. One night, they were heard debating with students from next door Ngee Ann Polytechnic on the motion that “this House would make Sexual Harassment a criminal offence”.

“I started debating when I was studying in Serangoon JC,” says Ali. “Debating is not just about speaking aloud and making your case. More than anything, it is about listening and engaging with your opponents on their terms.

“Debating practice also helps me to critically analyse various ideas in my course of study. This has helped me to produce good results in my studies.”

Ali is the founding president of the SIM Discourse Club. The other student officials include Cheng Ee Shan in charge of research and information, and Christina Tjen, in charge of welfare.

In June, the club participated in two competitions: the Singapore Model United Nations and the Singapore Model Parliament. In the Model UN, Ali won overall Best Delegate. In the Model Parliament, he received the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award. The club's leaders are now preparing for the worldwide Harvard Model UN conference at Harvard University in Boston in February 2014. 

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Classroom practice: Student Cheng Ee Shan presents her point of view on Sexual Harassment against the opposing team of Ali (green) and two NP students; Ali's team wins the debate

Management and marketing skills

Ali who completed his SIM Diploma in Management Studies course in May 2013, is enrolled in the University of Birmingham BSc (Hons) in Business Management, based on his outstanding DMS exam results. During his DMS days, he was active in CCA. His most memorable was participating in the 2012 SIM Management Festival. Ali and his team were first runner-up in the Business Challenge.

“We did an evaluation of the marketing programme of a real company that distributes ice cream to supermarket and other outlets. We prepared a three-year marketing plan with an all-round strategy. We even visited FairPrice and Cold Storage outlets to study how the ice cream products were displayed and we made recommendations,” says Ali.

One innovative recommendation the team made was for the distributor to persuade restaurants to include ice cream as a dessert in set lunches. Another recommendation was for the distributor to lower prices of a premium brand, in favour of higher volume turnover. “We were not sure if the company accepted our recommendations. However, much later I noticed in one of the stores that the particular premium brand was selling at a lower price.”

The final requirement of the contest was for Ali and his team to sell the ice cream in the SIM GE grounds. “We sold $400 worth in five hours,” says Ali. “However, the champion team sold even more.”

Ali also took part (with another DMS student Joseph Ng) in the NTU Ideas.Inc Business Challenge (see photo top) in August 2013. They formed a startup making medical posture devices. "We actually made a chair with sensors that will vibrate when you're not sitting properly and your posture is bad. We were in the Top 10 and we got a startup grant of $50,000 (real money from Spring Singapore!)."

Currently Ali and Joseph are finalising the prototype, hopefully by the first quarter of 2014.

Ali's latest initiative was to launch a Model United Nations student forum at the SIM Campus in January 2014. The two-day event attracted over 70 student delegates from other universities and polytechnics, he says. 

Two ambitious themes were discussed by the delegates who "represented" 27 countries: reforming the UN Security Council and implementing the Washington Consensus (a series of economic reform proposals proposed by the World Bank, IMF and other financial institutions based in Washington, DC). The quality of the students' papers and arguments were high, says Ali, compared with other Model UN events organised by other local universities.

Article first posted in May 2013, updated October 2013 and January 2014