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QF keeps skills of Qatar’s young debaters sharp amid COVID-19

QF keeps skills of Qatar’s young debaters sharp amid COVID-19

Tribune News Network
Doha
Its 9:03am, and Reem Al Kubaisi is frantically searching for her earphones. QatarDebate coach Mubarrat Wassey is a stickler for time, and training starts at 9am.
The reason for her search is that Reem – together with her fellow debaters on Team Qatar, which will be representing the nation at the Online World Schools Debating Championship (OWSDC) that starts this week – are learning the art of ‘virtual’ debating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It means their preparations are a little different from this time last year.
Back then, the team were surrounded by papers, files and books in Qatar Foundation (QF) member QatarDebate’s classroom, dedicated to enabling them to prepare for major championships. But due to the pandemic, and the lockdown measures and travel restrictions it has led to, their training this year is purely online, as they equip themselves both for the OWSDC and the World Schools Debating Championship in Mexico City, which was due to be held this month but has now been postponed until January.
Because of this delay, the organisers of the World Schools Debating Championship have given their endorsement for the OWSDC to be held from July 17 to August 2. Team Qatar’s intensive training has been taking part online, including sparring against other national teams, such as those from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and getting acquainted with the online tournament by taking part in the Helsinki Online Open Debating Championship earlier this month.
The Helsinki tournament showed them that hard work pays off, as they went on to win the championship, with Alanoud Al Thani being named the Best Novice Speaker as well as the 8th Best Speaker Overall. The championship consisted of 56 teams and featured some of the best university debate teams from across Europe, including tfrom the London School of Economics, Imperial College London, Trinity College Dublin, University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, as well as universities in Berlin, Utrecht, Tallinn and Stockholm University.
A new debating normal
“We feel like they are once again re-learning how to use Microsoft Teams, which is the platform we are using for online debating,” says Reem, who has been part of the QatarDebate community since 2017, has just graduated from the International School of London, and is about to join QF partner university Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q).
It has now been more than 100 days since the team has seen each other in person. Team Qatar training, like everything else, was abruptly halted in March because of the pandemic. QatarDebate subsequently moved training online. Having been selected in January, the team trained bi-weekly up to April, before – following Ramadan, Eid and the exam period – intensive training began in June, with three sessions a week. This has been stepped up in July, with online sessions every day except Fridays. And after over 120 hours of online preparation, wake-up calls, and technical glitches and solutions, this form of debate training has become part of the team’s new normal.
Team Qatar member and Al Bayan Secondary School for Girls student Moza Al Hajri, who is part of both the English and Arabic national debating teams, has been training in both languages online, and has not been fazed by the shift to online preparation. “While I truly miss the atmosphere of pre-COVID-19 training, where debates were more heated and everyone would interact more passionately in discussions, meeting via Microsoft Teams is not so bad and we are still able to have good and efficient training sessions,” she says.

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